With this weekend’s action coming to you from one of Nascar’s most storied venues, I thought some history of Darlington would be in order. The information I gathered was from various sites around the Internet, including www.darlington.com and of course Wikipedia. Being an older fan, I enjoy stories about the Golden Years of Nascar, hope you find them as interesting as I do.
If you know anything about “Stock Car” racing, and the difference between running on dirt tracks versus asphalt, you will find the problem drivers faced at the first Southern 500 on Labor Day in 1950, somewhat humorous. The art to running on a dirt track is the ability to drive hard into the corners, kick the rear end out , then slip and slide until you reach the straight a way. When you try this on Asphalt, you wear out the tires.
Most of the drivers who showed up for that first race didn’t understand the problem and quickly wore out their tires. They sent people into the crowds to buy spare tires from the fans so they could continue to race. I had even heard one time, but never really confirmed, that when patrons went to their cars to go home, found their family car up on blocks with the tires missing.
Harold Brasington, who after going to Indianapolis for the 1933 Indy, returned to his home in rural South Carolina and thought about such a track for Nascar. Of course all his friends and neighbors in Darlington were thinking about having him committed and laughed at him, when in 1949, he began building what was called “Harold’s Foley”. A 1 1/4 mile paved track that would attract a fledgling new outfit, run by a guy named Bill France, called Nascar. Brasington knew if he built it, they would come. It would be Nascar’s first Super Speedway.
And come they did. Over 25,000 fans came for that first race, and had to stand on top of each other, some scaling the walls to watch the action, as only about 10,000 were expected. Johhny Mantz started last in a field of 75 cars to take the checkered flag and win the inaugural Labor Day event. The race took over 6 hours to complete with an average speed of 75 Mph. After 6 decades of racing, Darlington is still known as the “Track To Tough To Tame”. It is also known as “The Lady In Black” which is a reference to the black stripes on the retaining walls which start out every race as pure white. Drivers through history have bragged about how they got their first “Darlington Stripe”.
Brasington didn’t know when he changed his symmetrical oval design to an Egg Shaped oval, he would drive future racers and crew chiefs crazy, trying to set up their cars for two distinctively different corners. He did this to avoid the land owners favorite fishing and minnow pond at the western end of the track. All part of the History that surrounds this historic venue.
Darlington’s actual dimensions are 1.366 miles, turn 1 and 2 are banked at 25 degrees and turn 3 and 4 at 23 degrees. The front straight is 3 degrees and the back is 2 degrees. The fast lap record was set last year by Kasey Kahne in the Red Bull Racing Toyota at 27.131 sec (181.250 mph). The King of Darlington was David Pearson with 10 wins and 12 poles. Ricky Rudd has the most laps logged at 17,582 and most laps led by Dale Earnhardt Sr. 2648. Most starts and top 5′s by Richard Petty, most top 10,s by Bill Elliott.
I was personnaly upset when Nascar decided to cut Darlington to one race a year and dropped the Southern 500 on Labor Day all together. After re-thinking my chagrin, I realized the track seating capacity at 75,000 is small by today’s standards and the area is not the textile producing giant it once had been, with no other entertainment, for fans attending the race. The track is on my “Bucket List” and is a track I intend to visit.