Little Bits of History

The South

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 4, 2012

Darlington Raceway

September 4, 1950: The first Southern 500 is held. National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was formed in 1948 but earlier races were of shorter duration. The Southern 500 remained the only 500 mile NASCAR race until 1959 when the Daytona 500 debuted. The Southern race was held at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina. The race was won by Johnny Mantz who was driving a 1950 Plymouth. It was the slowest qualifier of the race and he was 43rd in a field of 75 at the start of the race. He used truck tires for the race. They lasted much longer and so he needed fewer pit stops. It was enough for the win, his only NASCAR win ever.

Darlington was specifically built to have a place to race stock cars which was being done already, although running the cars on dirt tracks. The Indianapolis 500 was first held in 1948 and Harold Brasington, a retired driver himself, wanted to bring that type of racetrack to NASCAR events. This Labor Day weekend opening event held a record breaking $25,000 purse. The first race had a two-week qualifying system much like the Indianapolis 500 used. Also, in imitation of the northern race, the cars were lined up in 25 rows of three cars each for this first race. Over the years, with more standardized rules for cars, some of these qualifying features have been eliminated.

Darlington racetrack is a unique shape. It is somewhat egg-shaped in design rather than a perfect oval. Rumor has it that the shape was forced by the landowner’s refusal to get rid of a minnow pond that was crowding one end of the track. It has taken on a couple nicknames since built and is knows as both The Lady in Black and The Track Too Tough to Tame. Because the ends are curved differently, it makes for more exciting driving. The track measures 1.366 miles in length and a record time for one lap is held by Kasey Kahne who got a time of 27.131 seconds on May 6, 2011. The track can seat 75,000 spectators.

The Southern 500 was one of the four Crown Jewels of NASCAR. The race was always held on Labor Day weekend, until 2004 when the race was moved to November. Another race was given the Labor Day spot. Fans were outraged at the move. A shareholder of the Texas Motor Speedway also sued NASCAR due to anti-trust issues. The Dickies 500 usurped the place of the Southern 500, further infuriating the fans. In 2005, the race was removed from the schedule and even now, the lack of a Labor Day weekend race is a bone of contention between fans and NASCAR officials.

We go six times faster. — NASCAR CEO William C. France, when asked why deaths in auto racing were six times more common than deaths in football

We’re having chassis, aero and motor problems. Other than that, things are great. — Ward Burton

I usually just get up off the couch and just go. — Kyle Petty, asked what happens when he has to use the bathroom during a race (Petty failed to qualify for 12 races).

How do the gauges look? – Jeff Clark (engine tuner for the Bud team, asking about the oil and water temperatures under the long caution period)

Nice. They’re silver and they all have nice little red needles… – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (in response)

Also on this day:

Ginger or Mary Ann? – In 1967, the last Gilligan’s Island show is aired.
Smile – In 1888, George Eastman patented his camera.
Seven Golds – In 1973, Mark Spitz won his seventh Olympic gold medal.

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