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 storied race is 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, Labor Day weekend at Darlington Raceway, which now seats 58,000, is guaranteed to be an event you won’t soon forget. Events include a Southern 500 parade that meanders through the heart of downtown Darlington and commences at the track’s infield, a classic car show, opportunities to meet NASCAR drivers and legends, concerts and more. The day before the Southern 500, fans get into race mode with the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200, an exciting lead-up to the big race.
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.