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Darlington Raceway History
Darlington Raceway began as little more than Brasington’s Folly.
Harold Brasington went to the Indianapolis 500 in 1933 and came back to South Carolina with a vision. His friends and neighbors though he was nuts, but Brasington thought a patch of land just west of the little town of Darlington was the perfect place for 1¼-mile speedway that would be a half-sized copy of the 2.5-mile oval in Indy.
In the fall of 1949, on land that had been used for cotton and peanut farming, Brasington and his crew went to work. With Brasington himself often driving the bulldozer, Darlington Raceway went from vision to reality.
Brasington’s plans were altered by the presence of a minnow pond on the west end of the track that the man who owned it wasn’t about to give up, so that end of Darlington Raceway had to be narrowed. The result was an egg-shaped oval that’s like no other race track in the world.
History hangs in the air at Darlington Raceway.
It is stock car racing’s mother church, the first paved superspeedway where NASCAR drivers raced against each other.
Darlington Raceway is “The Lady in Black.”
Darlington Raceway is “The Track Too Tough to Tame.”
On Labor Day 1960, Harold Brasington hoped that 10,000 fans might buy tickets to see the first Southern 500. More than 25,000 showed up, standing practically on top of one another to see Johnny Mantz start dead last in a 75-car field only to outlast everyone else and win a 500-mile race that took more than 6 hours to complete.
From that day forward, the Southern 500 became a pillar in the history of NASCAR’s Cup series, existing as a Labor Day tradition until 2003.
As the legend of Darlington Raceway grew, she also helped make legends out of the men who managed to master her devious ways and find his way to Victory Lane. The highest complements Darlington Raceway has ever been paid have come from the great champions of the sport - people like David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Dale Earnhardt - who’re unsparing in their respect for challenge the track presents and their pride in every success they’ve enjoyed there.
One of the great moments in Darlington Raceway history came in 1985 when Bill Elliott’s victory in the Southern 500 gave him the “Winston Million,” a $1 million bonus from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco for his third win in the season’s four biggest events.
Even the great ones, however, have not always been able to avoid the vagaries of Darlington Raceway. The term “Darlington Stripe” came from the wear and tear drivers put on their cars as they scraped the wall trying to find the fastest away around the track’s treacherous surface. But time after time, people going for a “Stripe” came away with a painful lesson in how tough it was to get one the right way.
As much history as there is at Darlington Raceway, anyone who’s ever seen cars race through the turns banked at 23 degrees at one end and 25 degrees in the other hopes there’s a long future there, too.
In 2004, Darlington Raceway began a new era in its history. The final Southern 500 in November, part of the inaugural Chase for the Sprint Cup, was the first Cup race to end under the tracks new lights. And in May of 2005, a new tradition began with Darlington Raceway holding its first Cup event completely under the lights. All 60,000 tickets were sold for the Dodge Charger 500, and the atmosphere on the eve of Mother’s Day was electric.
Just like Harold Brasington knew it would be.