The Southern 500 Races into Darlington

By:Libby Wiersema

Date:8/20/2015

When the engines rev up at Darlington Raceway in September, it will signal more than the start of a race – it will also herald the restoration of a grand tradition.

The return of the Bojangles Southern 500 to its original date at the “Track Too Tough to Tame” is something to celebrate, and plans are underway to do so in grand NASCAR style. It’s been 12 years since the circuit included a Darlington race on Labor Day weekend, an event long considered by drivers to be the ultimate date with speed, daring and destiny. To win the Southern 500 at Darlington was to snag racing’s Pulitzer Prize.

The track’s humble history adds to its folksy allure. The first Southern 500 has roots that go all the way back to the 1940s, when the late Harold Brasington plowed up a peanut and cotton field, laid some pavement and thereby created a 1-1/4 mile oval suitable for stock car racing. In deference to the former landowner of the property, Brasington spared the farmer’s minnow pond, which resulted in a narrowing of the track on one end. This irregularity not only visually distinguished the track, but it posed unique challenges for the drivers. But what’s a little danger in the world of racing, right?

NASCAR gave its blessing, and the roar of engines filled the 25,000-seat arena on Sept. 4, 1950. The Southern 500 – and what many consider to be NASCAR’s greatest contest – was born.

“The annual race weekend at Darlington evokes feelings you don’t get at newer, fancier places,” said Cathy Elliott, who earned her “racing expert” stripes as public relations director for the raceway before doing a stint on NASCAR’s public relations team and writing several books on the sport. “The Southern 500 stirs up a lifetime of memories and experiences long past but never forgotten. It is more than something you watch; it is something you feel and remember.”

Indeed, the Sept. 6 race at Darlington Raceway, which now seats 58,000, is gearing up to be an event you won’t soon forget. In a nod to the “ghost of races past,” the raceway will highlight the eras of the Southern 500 over the next five years. The early 1970s will take the spotlight for the 2015 race weekend.

On Sept. 5, the historic Southern 500 parade will once again meander through the heart of downtown Darlington beginning at 7:15 p.m. and commencing at the track’s infield. The next morning, fuel up for race day with coffee, biscuits and nostalgia at the Bojangles Legends Breakfast. The event, which begins at 9:30 a.m. at the track’s hospitality village, will feature a panel of NASCAR Hall of Famers, including Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison and Dale Jarrett. Afterward, take in the classic car show, a tribute to pre-1980s automobiles.

A pre-race concert with 1970s rock band Grand Funk Railroad will take you back a few years as will country music star Tanya Tucker, who will sing the national anthem. A trip to the concession stands will feel like time traveling, too. Three Darlington Raceway favorites from the 1970s – made-from-scratch pimento cheese sandwiches, crispy fried green tomatoes and the meat and rice dish – sausage perlo – will be served up on Sept. 5 for the running of the NASCAR XFINITY Series VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 as well as during the Southern 500. Tradition never tasted so good.

Darlington Raceway is located at 1301 Harry Byrd Highway in Darlington. For ticket information, contact Darlington Raceway at 866.459.7223 or visit www.DarlingtonRaceway.com.

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