Sunday is the first race of the 2013 NASCAR season and many Carolinians are dedicated fans. NASCAR’s moonshine running roots are in the Carolinas and an old, dear, favorite venue is the track at Darlington, South Carolina.
Labor Day, 1950 marked the running of the first Southern 500 with a record breaking purse of…. $25,000! Wow, how times have changed. The Darlington oval-like track is 1.366 miles long with odd turns of varying degrees. Why the unusual egg-like shape? Well, the farmer that sold the land to the builder, retired racer Harold Brasington, had secured a promise that his minnow pond would not be disturbed. The odd shape allowed it to remain.
Born in a cotton field, Darlington Raceway still maintains its rural feel. Parking is in farmland (belly flopping mud-sliding observed at one rain delay) and port-a-potties out number bathroom stalls. My first NASCAR race in South Carolina was the last November running of the Southern 500. The traditional Labor Day running date had already been given away to a more profitable California track and those in Darlington feared that eventually Darlington might be dropped from the race schedule entirely. Fortunately nostalgia, track repairs and a move to Mother’s Day weekend has secured Darlington as a once per year location for our beloved NASCAR racing.
Track lights were added and the race is now run on Saturday night.
My kids have grown up making a yearly trek to the track. We missed last year due to an Alaskan cruise and upon our return my son informed me that he’d rather have gone to the race! Marshall is a passionate NASCAR fan!
Our usual seats above the Start-Finish line allow good views of the pit stalls. Here many of the drivers’ mothers had been given flowers for Mother’s Day.
The best view of all, of course, is atop the Tyler Tower where spotters communicate to the racers what is going on around the track beyond the windshield view.
And some of the most interesting views are those people watching opportunities that you get driving in.
A visit to Pit Road is a great way to see some of what’s involved during the race.
My kids were thrilled to meet some of Tony Stewart’s crew one year.
We usually take a guest and even my mom had a good time at what was really a little bit of a culture shock for her. Her last race had been at Monte Carlo!
Last time my Sweetie was the one who came along and he was really excited to get to see Danica Patrick…. well… sort of see her. And, of course, he’s really excited to see her on the pole for this year’s Daytona 500.
The name of the race has not always remained The Southern 500 but Southern pride always flies high at Darlington. Nowadays race names often include a sponsor – this year it’s the “Bojangles Southern 500”. Pass those biscuits, y’all.
And National pride, as well, is obvious with flyovers and frequent acknowledgements of our troops.
As for me, I enjoy watching my kids enjoy something that I have a passion for too.
Before the race, entertainment includes a band. Here country star Dierks Bentley performs.
The race starts out during a warm, sunny, late afternoon….
and ends in the dark. Here my favorite, veteran Mark Martin, wins in 2009.
Darlington is also the home of The Darlington Raceway and Stock Car Museum which is open six days a week. So if you can’t make the Mother’s Day race, visit the museum and get a taste of the excitement from the past through the present!