- Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 May 2009 20:00
- Published on Wednesday, 06 May 2009 20:00
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One of NASCAR’s most storied venues, Darlington Raceway, celebrates 60 years of racing by bringing back one of the sports most cherished traditions, the Southern 500.
It's Mothers Day weekend instead of the traditional Labor Day weekend race, but they have revived the name, and it’s racing at Darlington.
One of the most ridiculous moves of the Brian France NASCAR regime, was when the geniuses that run the sport took away the Labor Day date from Darlington, South Carolina and gave it to California Speedway. Darlington being just a dot on the map, and Southern California a major market and all that. The California track has never drawn particularly well, and Darlington Raceway is the granddaddy of all the Super Speedways.
Many of us grew up with two must-tune-in race dates each year. Memorial Day, we tuned in to the Indianapolis 500, and on Labor Day it was the Southern 500 from Darlington South Carolina.
Each year we planned our holiday weekend activities around these races. After a few disappointing Labor Day races at California Speedway, recently renamed Auto Club Speedway, NASCAR has given the Labor Day date to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the 2009 season. It’s a shame they didn’t give the date back to Darlington, but you’ve got to make the best of the decisions that come out of NASCAR headquarters.
For now, let’s take mom to Darlington. No less a racing icon than two-time Grand National champion Ned Jarrett, and the car owner from his glory years, Bondy Long, made the announcement this past February. If you remember Bowani Racing from Camden South Carolina, you are certifiably an old timer.
Jarrett, one of the sport's most beloved champions, recorded 50 wins during a 13-year career with 27 of them coming during the 1964 and 1965 seasons, driving the famous No.11 dark blue Bowani Racing Ford. The duo also claimed victory in the 1965 Southern 500 by a NASCAR record 14 laps on their way to winning the 1965 Grand National Championship.
“Winning the Southern 500 in 1965 was the biggest win of my career” Jarrett said. “It was even more special because at the time we lived in Camden S.C., and when we got back to our house it seemed like the whole community was waiting for us to get there and celebrate the victory.”
To this day Cup drivers covet a win at Darlington. Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick, and Elliott Sadler tested tires for Goodyear at Darlington in March. All four drives gave the track good reviews and talked about the importance of winning at Darlington Raceway.
“Well obviously this is a very historic race track” said Harvick. “It still has a lot of the characteristics that it’s had for a number of years, so to come here and race , as a driver I think it’s something special for everyone in the garage. This is an exciting place for us to race at and to win would be really cool. We’ve been close a couple of times and it would be nice to finally win one.”
“This is a place I got to come to as a kid and watch races because it is not far from where I grew up. To come here and have a chance to win this race is a dream come true,” said Elliott Sadler. “I love that we race here, I’m glad it’s a night race. It’s a great event for us and since we only come here once a year, we put a lot of effort into running well.”
“They repaved the track last year and you hated to see it in one way, but they did a great job and it’s still the same Darlington,” said 2000 Southern 500 winner Bobby Labonte. “Speeds have picked up, the surface is smoother, but the racing is still great and it still means the same thing to win here.”
Legendary driver Cale Yarborough, a Timmonsville, S. C. native and five-time winner of the Southern 500 will serve as honorary pace car driver. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven wins at Darlington. David Pearson leads all drivers with ten wins at “The Lady in Black.”
Driver Kurt Busch sums up the mystique that is Darlington very well, “Darlington is really a crown jewel in our sport. It reminds me that if you go to a ball park, whether it’s Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, it has that old, nostalgic feel. It’s something very special.”