Darlington Raceway is NASCAR history.
"Darlington Raceway is NASCAR history."
Opened in 1950, the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped track was the organization’s first paved superspeedway.
It can be said that Darlington showcases greatness. Often as not, a Darlington winner is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Darlington’s top seven winners – David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough – have won at least one title.
Over the years, there have been changes here and there: the start-finish line moved to what used to be the backstretch; the roof removed from the Brasington Grandstand; and guardrails gave way to concrete and finally SAFER barriers.
In 2007, the track was repaved adding speed but hardly diminishing Darlington as a track “too tough to tame” – unless, of course, you are NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Pearson, who won a record 10 races and 12 poles at his home Palmetto State track.
And nothing has changed the track’s shape, built to accommodate a minnow pond that shortens the radius of turns 3 and 4. The strategy to race the track – and not your fellow competitors – is as true today as it was more than 60 years ago.
Californian Johnny Mantz started only three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. But he’ll forever be remembered as the first winner at Darlington, starting 43rd in a 75-car Southern 500 field.
Mantz needed six hours 38 minutes 40 seconds to complete the race. Kyle Busch polished off 500 miles in a record three hours 34 minutes 14 seconds in May 2008.
The pole speed for the first Southern 500 was 82.034 mph. Jamie McMurray whizzed around the track at a record 180.370 mph last May.
NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Ned Jarrett won the 1965 Southern 500 by a whopping 14 laps over Buck Baker, the largest margin of victory in series history.
Darlington also had the closest finish since the advent of electronic timing and scoring in 1993 – matched a month ago at Talladega Superspeedway. In 2003 Ricky Craven edged Kurt Busch by 0.002 seconds.