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FYI WIRZ: NASCAR's Bad Girl Is Not a Lady but a Track in Darlington

Dwight Drum@@racetakeCorrespondent IIIMay 9, 2011

Kyle Busch burnout after winning the Nationwide race in Darlington
Kyle Busch burnout after winning the Nationwide race in Darlington

Darlington Raceway is nicknamed the “Lady in Black” and is also known as the track “Too Tough to Tame” for good reason—walls often win and cars lose.

The “Lady in Black” hosted the annual Mother’s Day weekend races with the Nationwide Series Royal Purple 200 and the Sprint Cup SHOWTIME Southern 500 with an abundance of crashes and frayed tempers.

Surviving Darlington depends a lot on whether a driver’s car just kisses the wall or hammers it.  Multi-car crashes are common which gives the statement "no way to treat a lady" a new twist. This lady has no mercy, but every driver dares to challenge her with speeds of 170 plus mph. Still, it may be a surprise to many that drivers love this track.    

Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman are two NASCAR stars who enjoy Darlington.    

“This has been one of my favorites ever since I started NASCAR,” Gordon said. “It is a track you have to attack. You have to respect. You are on the edge. Those are ingredients that drivers look to and it has suited me and our team well over the years. We recognize that this is definitely an important track for us and it is a good one for us as well.”

Newman probably doesn’t like it better than Gordon who has won seven times at Darlington, but he was quick to share his thoughts.

“I've always said this is one of my favorite racetracks,” Newman said. “I really look forward to it, just racing the racetrack and the competition.  I always have, from the very first lap I came here with the Buddy Baker. On the racetrack and off, I like the area, I like the people, I like the places, I like the history of NASCAR. The racetrack just makes it that much more icing on the top of the cake, and I like icing.”

The 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval was one of the first of the Super Speedway NASCAR tracks. It was fashioned after the builder Harold Brasington visited the 1933 Indianapolis 500. It has 25 degrees banking in Turns one and two and 23 degrees banking in Turns three and four.  

The racetrack's odd egg-shaped design was designed to satisfy Sherman Ramsey—the land owner—who did not want his nearby minnow pond disturbed. With the first race taking place on Labor Day 1950, Darlington had two races a year as NASCAR popularity rose, but economic hardships in the area eliminated one race and created the popular Mother’s Day race in May.

But even though the track is constantly tough, one driver in one car still wins each race. Kyle Busch won the Nationwide Series Royal Purple 200 race that preceded the popular Saturday night Southern 500.   

Crews re-paint the tire-scarred walls after the Nationwide race so the track is spruced up for the many mothers in attendance the following night. Painters work well into the night using more than 100 gallons of paint and nearly six long hours before the job is acceptable.

After all, mothers deserve the best.

This year’s main event of 500 intense laps produced a first-time winner, Regan Smith, in the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet. Smith’s unexpected accomplishment was met with great enthusiasm. 

The weekend began with the simmering rivalry of Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya. It ended in a spat between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch that escalated into a controversial car shove on pit road by an escaping Busch.

The have-at-it policy may have been breached when an angry, aggressive Harvick sparked a maneuver that Busch claimed was necessary—attributing it to failed brakes. Harvick was out of his car on pit road attempting to punch or grab Busch through the car window when Busch may have unnecessarily endangered another driver by ramming Harvick’s driverless car into the pit wall. 

NASCAR will sort that out, and some penalties are likely. 

So Darlington’s Sprint Cup race is past for another season, while seething memories for some drivers might well linger for many races to come. 

Ironically the 2010 crash-feud between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski seemed tame, as both raced cleanly into second and third place.  Edwards commented on their finish.

“I told him after the race that I thought he did a really good job,” Edwards said.   

Edwards also explained Darlington.       

“I think the reason we race car drivers like this track is because it’s so difficult that the driver can make a difference in the outcome,” Edwards said. “It seems like it’s a real driver’s race track, and if you really dig down deep and do your best, you can make something happen here and that’s really fun.  As a race car driver, that’s as good as it gets.”  

Every lady would accept a compliment like that.

FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of motorsports topics by Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com.  Information derived from motorsports industry press releases and media guides. 

Photo credit: Dwight Drum at Racetake.com

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