Legendary Darlington track sold to ISC

Monday, June 28, 1982 – Darlington (S.C.) Raceway stockholders agreed to a sale of the historic facility to International Speedway Corp., the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based track ownership arm run by the France family. While no purchase price was announced, reports put the sale of the facility at between $2.5 million and $4.2 million.

Darlington was built after founder Harold Brasington visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway and wanted a similar venue for stock car racing. The track began hosting NASCAR events in 1950. It was the first paved superspeedway in NASCAR, measuring 1.25-miles when it opened.

The track hosted one premier series race, the Southern 500, annually from 1950-’51; two races during the ’52 season, then one again from ’53-59. From 1960-2004, Darlington hosted two Cup races each season and then one again since’05.

The Southern 500, considered one of the series’ crown jewels, has had the largest fields to ever start a Cup race – including a record 82 in 1951.

The purchase gave ISC three facilities that hosted Cup races – Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Darlington. Today, the ownership group holds 12 tracks that host 19 of the season’s 36 points races.

Petty sets win mark with Darlington victory

Saturday, May 13, 1967 – Richard Petty becomes the winningest driver in NASCAR’s premier series with career win No. 55 when he captures the Rebel 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Prior to the victory, the 29-year-old Petty was tied with his father, three-time series champ Lee Petty, with a series-leading 54 victories.

• Petty dominated the race although an early scrape with the wall sent him to the pits for repairs. He led 266 of the race’s 291 laps. David Pearson, the runner-up, finished one lap down.

• Lee Petty, the series champion in 1954, ’58-59, had earned his final victory in 1961, winning at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla.

• Richard Petty began the ’67 season with 48 wins and was tied with Herb Thomas for fourth in all-time wins in the series. In addition to Lee Petty’s 54 victories, Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson were tied for second with 50 career victories. By the end of the season, Richard had scored a single-season record 27 victories, giving him 75 overall.

Sunday race leaves track president ‘blue’

Sunday, May 12, 1957 – Darlington (S.C.) Raceway track president Bob Colvin drove the pace car prior to the start of the Rebel 300 NASCAR convertible race. As soon as he exited the track he was arrested by the Darlington County Sheriff. Colvin’s crime? Violating the state’s Blue Law, which forbid “paid amusement” on Sundays. According to reports, Colvin posted a $50 bond immediately.

The race was originally scheduled for Saturday, May 11 but was postponed due to rain.

The so-called “Blue Law,” which also prohibited the sale of alcohol on Sundays, has been repealed in various municipalities across the state of South Carolina through the years.

It seemed like a good idea at the time

Saturday, May 10, 1952 – There was Strictly Stock, the forerunner of today’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and later the Convertible division, but in 1952 and ’53, NASCAR gave open-wheel entries a whirl. And on this date, the sanctioning body held its first race for Indy-style entries, known as the Speedway Division, at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

Buck Baker won the inaugural race in an entry powered by a Cadillac engine. He led the final 46 laps of the 160-lap event and according to reports sported a four-lap lead on runner-up Bill Miller at the finish.

Twenty-three entries were in the race and lined up three-abreast for the start; Speedy Thompson was the pole winner.

The Speedway Division was short-lived, lasting only from 1952-53. Baker won the series championship in ’52 while Pete Allen took the honor in ’53.

Rain and the threat of a lawsuit

Monday, May 9, 1960 – Two days after the Rebel 300 NASCAR convertible race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway was halted due to rain, one of the race’s chief contenders threatened to file a lawsuit against the sanctioning body and its founder, William H.G. France. Joe Weatherly said he would seek legal action if the race, scheduled to be completed on May 14, was resumed under the caution flag as proposed by France. Darlington Raceway president Bob Colvin sided with Weatherly and said according to NASCAR’s own rulebook, a race could only be restarted in one of two ways – under the green flag at the point it was halted or reverting to the start and beginning under green at lap 1.

Weatherly’s concern was that he and at least two other drivers had pitted for fuel during the 16 laps run under yellow for rain after lap 58. Resuming the race under five laps of yellow, he said, provided those who had not pitted with an unfair advantage – they would be able to pit and not lose a lap as he had done before the race was halted. Fireball Roberts was the race leader at the time the race was halted but was low on fuel.

France told the Florence Morning News that the situation was “an unprecedented event” and that “we have no rule to coverage. I simply had to let my conscious be my guide.”

So what happened? The race, held the following Saturday, was resumed under the yellow flag and Weatherly wound up in victory lane. And no lawsuit was filed. “I don’t think we even ought to talk about that,” he said after his first Darlington victory.

Pearson’s final win comes at Darlington

Sunday, April 13, 1980 – No rust was evident for David Pearson as the Silver Fox from Spartanburg, S.C., made a triumphant return to NASCAR’s premier series, winning the CRC Chemicals Rebel 300 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. It was the three-time champion’s first start in the series since winning the Southern 500 Labor Day classic on the same track the previous year.

The victory was No. 105 for Pearson, driver of the No. 1 Hoss Ellington-owned Chevrolet, and was his last in NASCAR’s top series. He was the second driver to top 100 victories and currently remains second on the all-time win list behind Richard Petty (200 wins). He ended his racing career with a Darlington track record 10 victories.

The race was stopped after 258 of the 367 scheduled laps had been completed due to darkness. Earlier, the race had been delayed for 2 hr., 18 min., because of rain. Pearson led a race-high 99 circuits around the 1.366-mile track.

Pole winner Benny Parsons, Harry Gant, Darrell Waltrip and Dick Brooks completed the top five.

Golden Boy gets win amid threats of lawsuit

Sunday, April 9, 1961 – Fred Lorenzen scores his first career victory in NASCAR’s premier series when he is declared the winner of the Virginia 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The win comes in his 20th career start and in the No. 28 Holman-Moody Ford in which he captured 27 of his 28 career victories.

Lorenzen’s first NASCAR victory came in a rain-shortened race. Only 171 of the scheduled 500 laps had been completed when the event was halted due to rain. However, because the final 23 laps, from lap 149-171, were run under caution, the official length of the race is listed as 149 laps.

After the race, NASCAR president Bill France announced that the race would be rescheduled for April 30; the race would be considered official, however, and another Martinsville race was simply added to what was previously a 51-race schedule.

The “rescheduling” brought threats of a lawsuit from Darlington (S.C.) track president Bob Colvin who contended that his track’s contract with NASCAR forbid any race being scheduled or re-scheduled for April 30, which was one week prior to the running of Darlington’s Rebel 300. France told the Associated Press that it was his understanding that the contract with Darlington did not take into consideration rain dates.

Colvin said he told NASCAR to “hire some lawyers for I will go to court. … I guarantee you one thing. If this (Martinsville) wasn’t France’s track, there wouldn’t be any argument at all.”

At the time, the Martinsville track, which began hosting NASCAR-sanctioned races in 1949, was co-owned by founder H. Clay Earles and France.

Silver Fox to fill seat for departing Allison

Friday, March 28, 1980 – David Pearson, winner of 104 NASCAR premier series races and two championships, is named to replace Donnie Allison as driver of the No. 1 Hoss Ellington entry just five races into the season. The amicable split left Allison hoping to find a ride with a team competing full-time on the circuit. The Ellington organization was expected to compete in no more than a dozen races, a schedule Pearson finds attractive.

Pearson made nine starts with the Hawaiian Tropic-sponsored team in ’80. He won in his first start with the team, capturing the Rebel 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. It was his 105th and final win in NASCAR’s top series. He also finished second at Daytona that July and second when the series returned to Darlington for the annual Southern 500.

Allison drove for the Ellington organization from 1977 through ’80. He made just three starts in his final season with the team, finishing seventh (Daytona), fifth (Rockingham) and 26th (Atlanta). Four of his 10 career wins came while driving for the team.

For Speed, victory comes at Darlington

Sunday, March 27, 1988 – Lake Speed snapped a 163-race winless streak in the NASCAR premier series when he captured the TranSouth 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. The 40-year-old from Jackson, Miss., led 178 of the race’s 367 laps, including the final 48.

Speed raced for several different owners during his Cup career, but his victory came at a time he was competing as an owner/driver. His No. 83 Oldsmobile finished 19 seconds ahead of runner-up Alan Kulwicki.

Prior to his victory, Speed’s best result had been a pair of runner-up finishes, in the 1985 Daytona 500 and ’88 Goodwrench 500 at Rockingham, N.C.

Davey Allison, Bill Elliott and Sterling Marlin completed the top five. Only the top three cars finished on the lead lap.

Speed made 238 more NASCAR starts after his victory but was never able to repeat the feat and return to victory lane. Considered by many one of the series’ most underrated drivers, Speed finished with 16 top-five and 75 top-10 finishes in 402 career premier series starts.

Jarrett, Fords undaunted by rule changes

Sunday, March 22, 1998 – Dale Jarrett’s victory in the TranSouth 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway was just the second victory for a Ford team in the season’s first five races, but it came on the heels of a second NASCAR rule change aimed at taking away a perceived aerodynamic advantage the auto maker enjoyed on the race track. Earlier that week, officials had instructed Ford teams to decrease the width of the spoilers on the back of their cars by two inches. Eight of the top 10 finishers at Darlington were Fords.

NASCAR had previously required Ford teams to decrease the height of their spoiler from five inches to 4.75 inches after the auto maker swept nine of the top 10 spots at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

At Darlington, spoilers on Ford entries were decreased from 57 inches wide to 55 inches, the same as that on Chevrolet and Pontiac entries. Ford teams placed five or more teams in the top 10 in all of the season’s first five races.

“We built a good race car and all they’ve (NASCAR) done from the second race on is take stuff away from us,” Jarrett said afterward.

Ford drivers led all 293 laps in the TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington.