The return of the Southern 500 to Darlington Raceway is fueling waves of nostalgia across the world of NASCAR.
Since 2003, when the Southern 500 was moved to November, and the Labor Day race went to California Speedway, there have been NASCAR fans clamouring for a return to the tradition of holding the Sprint Cup Southern 500 at the track many consider to be its spiritual home.
As this year’s race approaches, and fans flock to sites like bet fair to investigate the latest motorsports odds, we’re taking a look back at some of the moments from Darlington’s history that has earned it such an esteemed reputation.
The first race
After Harold Brasington’s vision for a superspeedway in rural South Carolina became a reality, the first race was booked in for Labor Day, 1950.
The track had been planned as a perfect oval, but a local landowner insisted that the west end of the track be adjusted so that it didn’t encroach on his minnow pond!
The result was Brasington’s famous egg-shaped race track, later dubbed “The track too tough to tame”, and the race took place in front of 25,000 excited fans – 15,000 more than Brasington had anticipated.
Johnny Mantz took the victory in six hours, and gave NASCAR its first winner.
Bobby Allison makes it two
Bobby Allison wrote his name into the NASCAR history books with his three career Southern 500 wins, and it is the second of the trio that stands out in the memory for legendary team owner Robert Yates.
It was 1972, and Yates was working for team owner Richard Howard on a hot day at Darlington. Yates had tweaked Allison’s carburetor and believed he had hit on something big – within the rules – that would help his man to victory.
Allison didn’t let him down, leaving the field trailing in his wake, and Yates still keeps a sticker commemorating the win on his toolbox to this day.
Craven sees off Busch
In 2003, Darlington Raceway witnessed one of its most hotly contested battles of all time, when Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch went head-to-head in the 100th Sprint Cup Series race.
The physicality of the battle was intense, with the cars appearing to be hooked together at one stage, and the finish could not have been any closer, with Craven emerging victorious by just 0.002 seconds – the narrowest winning margin in the history of NASCAR.