The Lady in Black - Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway was built in 1949 by Harold Brasington, a retired racer. After going to the Indy 500 in 1948, Brasington made plans to build a track for a 500 mile race. So, he bought land from farmer Sherman Ramsey. There was a stipulation; Brasington couldn't disturb Ramsey's minnow pond. The track took a year to build. It was a 1.366 mile oval with 14 degree banked turns-and it was shaped like an egg.
Darlington's first Southern 500 was held on Labor Day in 1950. Eighty cars came to qualify over a two week period. Seventy-five cars made it in the field and Brasington, taking the idea from the Indy 500, lined the cars up in 25 rows of three. Johnny Mantz, driving a 1950 Plymouth owned by Bill France, Westmoreland, Curtis Turner, and Alvin Hawkins, started dead last in the field. It took him six hours to make his way to the front and win the inaugral race, laying claim to his share of the record $25,000 purse. The average speed for the race was 76 mph.
According to David Pearson, If a driver came away with a "Darlington Stripe, he was driving where he was supposed to". Jim Hunter, Darlington Raceway president, recently stated in an article by Rob Sneddon in Dick Berggren's Speedway Illutrated Magazine, "Back when I was in the newpaper business, you would walk through the garage and look at the right side of the cars as a means of telling who was fast. the stripe came when drivers would rub along the outside wall, which was then a guardrail. thus, making a black stripe down the side of the car. This is part of what gave Darlington it's reputation; the sandpaper-like asphalt would eat the tires and, when cars got into the wall, the wall would shove them back into the race, like a human pinball.
This reputation gave Darlington the nickname, "The Track To Tough To Tame". Pearson, who "tamed" it a record 10 times, has said, "If you got yourself all tensed up, it was a lot harder. You had to learn to relax." This nickname holds true today. John Andretti says, "It's like going out and trying to wrestle a gorilla. Most of the time you're just trying to stay alive." But, while most drivers agree that Darlington is probably one of the toughest tracks that they go to, most like it. Some think that Darlington Raceway is what NASCAR was and still should be. A track that separates the men from theboys. Stated Jeff Gordon, "After ten laps the tires are shot, so it comes down to the driver." This from the man who has won four Southern 500's in a row.
Darlington Raceway, "The Lady In Black," has challenged drivers for 50 years. She'll chew you up and spit you out. It takes a lot of hard work to tame her. Many have tried. Some have succeeded. Who will tame her this week?
(History from Inside Sports Magazine-NASCAR RACING-THE ULTIMATE FAN GUIDE; quotes from Dick Berggren's Speedway Illutrated; stats from www.jayski.com)