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.

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.

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.

Late Model mayhem and a near riot

Thursday, March 15, 1956 – NASCAR fined points leader Bob Welborn and Herb Thomas, second in the standings, $250 each for unsportsmanlike conduct following a 150-lap Late Model race at Fayetteville Raceway on March 11. Both drivers were also required to post $250 bonds to assure their compliance with all NASCAR rules for the balance of the year.

A series of on-track altercations throughout the race got out of hand after Welborn was knocked out of the lead in the final laps by Thomas. Fans, upset over the contact, attempted to accost Thomas in the pits after the race. Reports indicated fans also broke windows out of the Thomas car. Local police had to climb atop Thomas’ entry while he was still behind the wheel to hold irate fans at bay with dry fire extinguishers.

NASCAR’s Bill France Sr. suspended the two drivers until an investigation into the incident could be completed.

Driver Gwyn Staley grabbed the lead with three laps remaining and won the race. 

A real trophy queen for Hillsboro

Sunday, March 10, 1963 – More than a decade before Elizabeth Taylor attended her first NASCAR event at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, and her second a year later Charlotte Motor Speedway, tiny Orange Speedway, a .9-mile dirt track in Hillsborough, N.C. played host to one of Hollywood’s biggest female stars. When Junior Johnson stepped into victory lane, he was presented the winner’s trophy by Hollywood sex symbol Jayne Mansfield, star of the stage, screen and apparently supper clubs.

NASCAR founder Bill France and Enoch Staley (of North Wilkesboro Speedway fame), race promoters for the event, extended the offer to Mansfield, who was performing at a Greensboro supper club during the week of the race.

According to reports, Mansfield told reporters earlier in the week she had “never seen one of these races before, and I’m looking forward to it very much.” To which driver Joe Weatherly was said to have responded: “I’m not at all sure what she’s looking forward to. But man, she really looks forward!”