Darlington: NASCAR'S Favorite Lady in Black

Jen PrestonSenior Analyst IMay 4, 2009

"If Tony Hulman can do it here, I can do it back home."

It was built in Darlington, South Carolina on seventy acres of land, by a former racer who left the sport in the 1940's to return to farm life. After attending the 1933 Indianpolis 500 and seeing the sizeable crowd, Harold Brasington wanted to bring something similar to his homestate.

The egg shaped track was shaped the way it was so Brasington could avoid destroying a minnow pond.

That's right folks—it wasn't built that way for tough racing, side by side competition, or to remind future generations of NASCAR's southern beginnings. No, it was done to save a minnow pond.

Thus, the track "Too Tough to Tame," or the "Lady in Black," was born.

Ground breaking began in 1949, and a year later Darlington Raceway opened for competition. Brasington, who raced against Bill France Sr. on dirt tracks allowed the promoter to hold a 500 mile race there on Labor Day Weekend, with 80 drivers showing up for the first annual event for both NASCAR and Central States Racing Association.

More inspiration came from the Indianapolis 500 in the way of qualifying. A two week event was held, sending five cars home and lining up the remaining 75 cars in rows of three.

Thirty-two year old Johnny Mantz won his only NASCAR race in the inaugural event. He started last, and with a top speed of 76 miles per hour, won the event.

The race, which took six hours to complete, hosted 25,000 fans—fifteen thousand more than expected.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Winners would be drivers like Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Benny Parsons, and Tim Richmond. Jeff Gordon currently holds the record for most wins among active drivers with six, his last coming in 2007.

Terry Labonte won his first NASCAR Winston Cup race at Darlington in 1980.

Since it's racing birth 59 years ago, Darlington Raceway now has 60,000 seats, lights for Saturday night racing, and was repaved in 2008.

"You never forget your first love," said Dale Earnhardt Sr., who won at Darlington nine times.

"Whether it's a high school sweetheart, a faithful old hunting dog, or a fickle race track in South Carolina with a contrary disposition. And, if you happen to be a race car driver there's no victory so sweet, so memorable, as whipping Darlington Raceway."

Notes and stats heading into this weekend's Southern 500:

  • This weekend's race will be the 106th NASCAR race in Darlington, which was NASCAR's first Super Speedway.
  • The most lead changes in a Darlington was set in 1982 with 41.
  • Fifteen is the highest amount of cautions, set in 1995. Only one race has gone caution free, which was Fireball Robert's victory in 1963.
  • Traditionally held on Labor Day weekend, the 500 mile event hasn't been held during that weekend since being bumped to November in 2004. Ricky Craven was the last driver to win it on it's original weekend.
  • The winning-est driver at Darlington was David Pearson, who won ten times.
  • Greg Biffle was the last driver to win back to back races. Kyle Busch is the defending winner.
  • In 105 NASCAR races at Darlington, there have been 43 different winners.
  • Jeff and Ward Burton and Terry and Bobby Labonte are the only two sets of brothers to win at Darlington. The Burtons won back to back in 1999 and 2000.
  • Ned and Dale Jarrett are the only driver-son combination to win at Darlington.

Thanks to Racing Reference, NASCAR.com, and DarlingtonRaceway.com for the information, stats, and quotes used in this piece.