NASCAR's Darlington Raceway: The Original Dancing with the Stars

David YeazellSenior Analyst IMay 4, 2009

DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 10: Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #42 Wrigley's Big Red Dodge, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Indiana Jones Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Dodge Challenger 500 on May 10, 2008 at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The NASCAR stars come every year. At times they were coming twice a year.

Some are young, some are not so young. They all come with one thing on their minds: to dance with the Lady in Black.

Sixty years ago, 75 stars showed up for her first dance.

Johnny Mantz figured it would be his tires that would conquer the new track, and he was right.

Darlington, South Carolina is a quiet little town. The 7,000 or so residents live on tree-lined streets with obscure names like Ave. A or Ave. B.

In 1949, a visionary named Harold Brasington wanted to acquire a parcel of land from Sherman Ramsey.

Located on the western end of town, Ramsey offered the land with only one stipulation: "Do not mess with my minnow pond."

It would be those words that would shape the most unique race track in NASCAR history.

Harold Brasington built Darlington Raceway, a 1.366-mile oval shaped like an egg.

Keeping with Ramsey's request, Brasington built one end of the speedway more narrow than the other end. Sherman Ramsey's minnow pond is still there today.

Over time, the Lady in Black has had her favorites. Stars named Earnhardt, Petty, Yarborough, and Gordon seemed to be her regular picks at the end of each dance.

In 1985, feeling a little frisky, the Lady in Black would favor a boyish-looking suitor from Dawsonville, Georgia named Bill Elliott. He danced so well she rewarded him with a million-dollar bonus.

In 2003, she couldn't decide who to pick. It wasn't until the final step that she chose Ricky Craven as her star of the night.

Year after year the stars have come and gone. The brightest star so far is a silver fox named David Pearson.

Dancing with the ole girl is never easy. At times she is just downright testy.

In 1965, one of her favorites, Cale Yarborough, was mixing it up in turn one, and before you knew it, he was over the wall and into the parking lot.  

In 2008, during practice, Jimmie Johnson thought he could take advantage of the ole girl. Twice she warned JJ, once by smacking him, and the other by making him lose control of his car. If you're gonna dance with a lady, then you better treat her like a lady.

After a private conversation and a few mixed concrete drinks, JJ eased up, and the Lady in Black let him pass.

Last year, sporting a $10 million facelift, the Lady in Black decided on a younger suitor, Kyle Busch, as her final dancing partner.

This year, facelift still fresh and celebrating her 60th birthday, the ole girl might just have something else up her sleeve.

Join us once again for a Saturday night dance at the track too tough to tame.

Sources: Darlington Raceway and the clutter in my head.