While the modern world races by its front door along Highway 151, there’s a special place in the Pee Dee that offers the wise traveler a chance to revisit a unique part of Southern history.
A place so revered you can close your eyes and feel the pounding as two tons of American steel—Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Plymouths, Fords and Chevrolets—roar at full throttle around high banks. You can almost smell the mixture of Pure Oil racing fuel, Firestone tire smoke and Falstaff beer, just as you can almost see the excited kids and teens in rolled-up Wranglers massing on race day.
Hidden out in the virtual shadow of the fabled Darlington Raceway—“The Track Too Tough to Tame,” NASCAR’s first superspeedway and home to the inaugural Southern 500 first run way back in 1950—lies a hidden attraction that serves to preserve those treasured days: the Darlington Raceway Stock Car Museum.
But to call the museum, which originally opened in 1965, a mere attraction is a vast understatement. It’s much more of an experience, about as close to time travel as one can get. The museum takes visitors on a caution-flag-paced trip from the very beginnings of NASCAR—when former moonshine runners sought to out wit and out race each other in their souped-up cars—right on up into its glory years.
Of course, what’s a racing museum without cars? The museum spotlights some extremely historic cars, including the winning entry from that maiden Southern 500. Highlights include a 1949 Plymouth driven by Johnny Mantz and an original 1949 Modified Oldsmobile Coupe that was driven in NASCAR competition for more than 10 years by drivers Buck Baker, Paul Goldsmith and Darrel Dieringer. Noteworthy entries include a ’67 Plymouth that carried Richard Petty and a rotating collection of contemporary machines that wow enthusiasts. Championship-winning cars driven by Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick and some of the last racecars wheeled in competition by the late Dale Earnhardt and Davey Allison attract race fans year-round.
The museum enshrines much more than the men behind the wheel and their cars. It focuses just as much attention on the mechanics, innovators and promoters who made NASCAR the world-renowned sport it is today. And it seeks to do so in a very intimate way, going beyond murals and photos to focus on the personalities of the people it honors. See the shoes that Joe Weatherly preferred to race in, Fireball Robert’s favorite jacket, Fred Lorenzen’s favorite Darlington shirt and other items such as wristwatches, jewelry and rare documents.
Many of these items are enclosed in display cases, but the museum also has nearly 100 stand-alone exhibits that feature audio recordings. There are also a series of historic engines on 360-degree display, giving visitors an idea of the horsepower mechanics were providing their heavy-right-footed wheelmen. Also see a display of illegal parts confiscated by inspectors when they went a step too far.
And the museum goes even further, housing the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame, which honors members of the media and many others who have made significant contributions to the sport of NASCAR. The NMPA bestows annual honors, including the Richard Petty Driver of the Year Award, the Myers Brothers Award, the NMPA Most Popular Driver Award and the NMPA Spirit Award, whose recipients are then memorialized within the museum.
In short, the Darlington Raceway Stock Car Museum covers the sport of stock car racing from A to Z, reminding you exactly what made you a NASCAR fan in the first place. So be among the wise and stop in for a taste of true NASCAR tradition, Southern-style. Take a step back to a time when racin’ was racin’ and the legend of “The Lady in Black” was being made.Plan your trip to the next Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.