A bill that could allow Darlington Raceway to watch out for both its fans' bottoms and the track's bottom line is headed to the South Carolina Senate.
The Senate Finance Committee passed a proposal Tuesday that would allow the track to keep its 5 percent tax on tickets even if the speedway's capacity falls below 60,000 people — in the event bigger seats are one day needed to accommodate fans.
Darlington Raceway currently seats 62,000 people. But track president Chris Browning says the speedway is considering widening its 18-inch wide seats as an amenity for the crowds.
"One of the things a lot of stadiums are doing is widening seats to make fans more comfortable," he explained. But he said reducing seating capacity because of bigger seats has tax implications.
The track hasn't settled on any specific expansion plans, so Browning couldn't speculate on how many seats could be lost if it chose to accommodate bigger fan bottoms.
The talks are just beginning.
"It's in the discussion phase. We'll see how it shakes out in the next couple of years," Browning said.
The bill before lawmakers would delete the reference to the track's 60,000 fans while allowing it to keep the tax proceeds as a NASCAR sanctioned motor speedway that hosts at least one race a year of the preeminent NASCAR racing series. Such language would only apply to Darlington Raceway.
A law allowing the track to have the exemption for 10 years was passed in 2008. The bill currently does not extend the exemption.
The Senate Committee passed the bill without any discussion.
Darlington Raceway still charges the 5 percent tax, but keeps proceeds for its own marketing and promotions. Browning said the money used to go into a larger fund to promote tourism in South Carolina.