I don’t know where to start so let’s just start from the beginning. Well, sometime after it was determined that Harold Brasington hadn’t been out in the South Carolina sun too long.
Brasington was the gentleman who traveled to Indianapolis Motor Speedway once upon a time and decided that stock cars needed something similar in the heart of the south so he returned home, climbed aboard his bulldozer and changed the sport of stock-car racing forever.
Darlington Raceway is stock-car racing in all its glory.
• Sept. 4, 1950 – There were 19 races on the Grand National schedule in NASCAR’s sophomore season, but only one was run entirely on pavement. The inaugural Southern 500 debuted at No. 13 on the schedule, nestled in between stops at Hamburg (N.Y.) Speedway and Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway.
Johnny Mantz, a former open-wheel racer, outlasted a field of 74 others to become the race’s first winner … they started the race three-abreast and continued to do so for several years afterward … for the first three years, the race distance was 400 laps … Yes, there really was a child’s doll in the back seat of Mantz’ winning Plymouth during the race.
• Sept. 1, 1952 – The third annual running of the Labor Day race clocked in at 6 hr., 42 min., 37 sec. It’s the longest Southern 500 and the longest time of race for any NASCAR premier series event. Not even the World 600 has lasted longer. … Fonty Flock won the race. His driving “uniform” consisted of, among other things, Bermuda shorts and argyle socks.
• Sept. 2, 1957 – The aptly named Speedy Thompson became a Southern 500 champion in a race that also saw Bobby Myers lose his life. Myers was involved in a three-car crash on the 28th lap and was the first fatality in the eight-year history of the event. As a result, officials limited the starting field to 50 cars the following year in an effort to reduce congestion on the 1.366-mile track.
• Sept. 3, 1962 – Driver Larry Frank knew he had won the ’62 Southern 500. But there was Junior Johnson over in the winner’s circle, accepting the trophy and being kissed by Miss Sun Fun and Miss Southern 500. After seven hours and a recheck of the scorecards, Frank was declared the race winner. He was presented the trophy in a makeshift celebration the following day.
• Sept. 6, 1965 – Ned Jarrett wins by a whopping 14 laps, the largest margin in series history. Jarrett took over the top spot after frontrunners Darel Dieringer and Fred Lorenzen fell by the wayside with less than 50 laps remaining.
• Sept. 5, 1966 – Darel Dieringer won the race driving for car owner Bud Moore, but that’s not what many media members likely recalled. According to the Associated Press, an incident between Richard Petty and Earl Balmer left writers in the press box, located just above the track, scurrying for cover.
“Balmer’s Dodge got up on the three-foot guard rail and rode it through most of the first turn and well into the second before coming to rest. The car knocked down 22 guard rail posts and sent a piece of metal whizzing past the press box, located in the first turn. The press box was evacuated.”
• Sept. 1, 1969 – LeeRoy Yarbrough becomes the first driver to win a rain-shortened Southern 500. Yarborough passed David Pearson with one lap remaining as officials pulled the plug due to darkness after 230 laps. A 4-hour rain delay had pushed the completion of the race beyond 7 p.m. ET.
• Sept. 4, 1978 – The legendary track had been repaved following the spring race but remained a handful. Buddy Baker called the upgrade similar to “putting a coat and tie on a rattlesnake.
“They may go into Turn 4 three abreast now,” Baker said, “but only one is going to come out of it.”
Benny Parsons, who tested at the track shortly after the repave, went as far as to send a letter to his fellow drivers warning them of its dangers.
• Sept. 2, 1984 – The first Southern 500 to be run on a Sunday. It was won by Harry Gant with Tim Richmond (second) and Buddy Baker (third) the only other cars on the lead lap. Temperatures of nearly 105 degrees took a toll on drivers, teams and fans.
• Sept. 1, 1985 – Bill Elliott captured the Southern 500 and the $1 million bonus provided by series sponsor R.J. Reynolds in its first year. Elliott won three of the four races required – the Daytona 500, Winston 500 (Talladega, Ala.) and Southern 500.
• Sept. 5, 1993 – Mark Martin won his fourth consecutive race and his first Southern 500 in a race that was shortened 16 laps due to darkness. The start of the race was delayed by almost three hours due to rain.
• Aug. 31, 1997 – Jeff Gordon wins his third Southern 500 in a row and becomes just the second driver to collect the Winston Million $1 million bonus. The race was also the first to be run after the start/finish line had been moved to what was previously the backstretch as officials began a large-scale renovation project.
• Nov. 14, 2004 – Jimmie Johnson captured the first Southern 500 to be run on a date other than the Labor Day Holiday weekend. The move was the result of NASCAR awarding the Labor Day date to Auto Club Speedway at the request of track owner International Speedway Corp.
• From 2005 through 2008, Darlington held just one Cup race; it was held in May and was not called the Southern 500.
• Between 2009-13, the race was renamed the Southern 500 but retained its May date. It was run in April in 2014.
• Sept. 9, 2015 – The Southern 500 at Darlington returned to its rightful place on the schedule. The race was won by Carl Edwards, who rallied from two laps down. The track also debuted its “Throwback” program highlighting paint schemes and other items from the past.