This week NASCAR rolls into Darlington Speedway. That is not earth shaking news, in and of itself. But what is earth shaking is what they have named the race. The Darlington Speedway management has brought back the long standing traditional name of ” The Southern 500″! Granted, “The Southern500” was traditionally run during the Labor Day Weekend in September each year. But since loosing one of it’s racing dates, the Darlington race was rescheduled for the middle of May. Also the name,”The Southern 500″ disappeared off of the schedule.
The Darlington Speedway was THE original superspeedway in NASCAR. The first race was held on Labor Day, 1950. Harold Brassington, the track builder, was expecting no more that maybe 10,000 people to attend this race. However, as it turned out, more than 25,000 people were in attendance for that Labor Day race in 1950! The winning driver that afternoon was Californian Johnny Mantz, completing the 500 mile race in SIX hours! They now complete the 500 miles in about 3:30 minutes!
The most exciting race at Darlington recent memory ocurred on March 16, 2003. That race involved one Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch (aka Ears Laid Back, ELB). After trading the lead for several laps, these two drivers came out of turn #4 beating and banging on each other. As they crossed the start/finish line Busch”s #99 Ford and Craven’s #32 Pontiac were wrecking and, at the same time, racing for the win and the Checkered Flag! Ricky Craven won the race by the narrowest of margins!
The year’s race is the 60th anniversary for the marriage between Darlington and NASCAR! If that isn’t tradition, then I don’t know what is! Likewise, the #43 Richard Petty Blue Plymouth in the picture above is the epitome of tradition. As long as there has been NASCAR, there has been a Petty involved in the race! First there was Lee Petty, later King Richard Petty, then came Kyle Petty as drivers. These days there is Richard Petty Motorsports as a car owner!
Now you may be asking, just what does tradition smell like? It smells like hot dogs and hamburgers. It smells like popcorn, Coca Cola, and ice cold beer. It smells like families gathering to root on their favorite driver to victory. It smells like warm motor oil, horsepower and burning rubber!!
That is what tradition smells like!