The Frontstretch: History Still Matters to Some NASCAR Fans by Mike Neff -- Thursday August 31, 2006

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History Still Matters to Some NASCAR Fans

Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Thursday August 31, 2006


That sound you hear is Harold Brasington turning over in his grave. The man who was responsible for building Darlington raceway back in the late 1940s does flips in his grave every year about this time. Labor Day weekend is when the Rebel 500 was always run at his beloved race track. As the world around Darlington became more politically correct, the name was changed to the Southern 500. It was still the crown jewel of racing events on the Cup schedule. Sure Daytona is the "Super Bowl" but the Rebel 500 was the first. Darlington was the first superspeedway and the Rebel 500 was the big race that was run on the hallowed track every year on Labor Day weekend. At least every year until 2004, when the event was moved to November. That was the last time the Southern 500 was ever contested.

In 2005 the Labor Day event was moved to California Speedway. For some reason, the powers that be in Daytona felt like Darlington's only race on the schedule didn't fit on Labor Day weekend anymore. Instead they wanted to start a new tradition on the West coast. The hotbed of stock car racing that is Southern California was the new home for the Labor Day race on the Cup schedule. And so a storied tradition that dated back to 1950, the third year that NASCAR existed, was unceremoniously dumped from the schedule.

Darlington's place in NASCAR history can never be overestimated. It was the first high banked, paved oval. It was the first NASCAR track that was over one mile in length. It is without a doubt the grandfather of every single track on the schedule right now with the exception of Martinsville. If it weren't for the success of Darlington, Bill France might never have built Daytona. The series very well could have languished on the dirt tracks around the Southeast and never seen its meteoric rise to popularity that we have all witnessed over the last 15 years.

There were 75 cars in the very first Rebel 500. 75!!! Can you imagine a Cup race today with 75 cars competing? The following year saw 82 cars compete. The thought of that is simply incomprehensible. In the race in 1982, won by Cale Yarborough, there were 41 lead changes. In 1965, Ned Jarrett won the race by 14 laps. People complain about boring races these days! Can you imagine seeing a driver win a race by 14 laps? It was probably still more exciting than the race will be this weekend in Fontana. David Pearson won 10 races at the track, but only three of them were Southern 500s. Cale Yarborough's five wins at the track were all in the Southern 500. The place is just dripping with history. Unfortunately, there will never be any more Southern 500 history made there.

The truly sad part of this story is that the modern NASCAR fan probably doesn't have a true appreciation for the place the Southern 500 holds in NASCAR's history. It is obvious that the California fans don't have an appreciation for a Labor Day event. If you looked at the stands last September, there were thousands of empty seats. The track promoter claims the seats were sold but the fans were simply shopping instead of watching the race. Is there any greater slap in the face of history than to be more interested in shopping than what is taking place on the track. Darlington may not have sold out every race, but the fans that were there didn't leave their seats to go shopping during the event. The fans are loyal to a fault in the Southeast. They have proven that over the last two years by selling out the only Darlington date left on the schedule both years, even if it does fall on Mother's Day weekend.

It is truly a shame that Darlington does not host a race on Labor Day weekend anymore. The event was an institution for half a century in the sport. Most every older driver will tell you that for most of the Cup Series’ life, Darlington was the race that truly determined the best driver. Daytona may have been the big race of the year, but the drivers wanted to win Darlington the most because it proved you were the best driver. There is no doubt that longstanding NASCAR fans will be watching the race this weekend. They love their sport and are loyal to the end. But anyone who was a fan back in the day will feel a very painful twinge when they drop the rag on the race this weekend and it takes place in the Pacific time zone. Some pieces of history should not be forgotten. Let's hope that someday NASCAR will come to its senses and put the Labor Day race back in Darlington where it belongs.

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Sally B
09/01/2006 05:08 AM

California has already had 2 chances to show how interested it is in Nascar…Riverside and Ontario. Neither of them even exists anymore. And we sold out the most historic, exciting track in stock car racing so west coast fans can go shopping? I won’t be watching this weekend, I’ll be watching tapes of Darlington!

09/01/2006 05:31 AM

When California doesn’t sell out again this year I wonder what the excuse will be. To me, Labor Day will always be the Southern 500. Maybe someday soon the Powers That Be in Na$CAR will also see that.

09/01/2006 06:20 AM

We won’t be watching the “race” Sunday night either. Haven’t watched a race on Labor Day weekend since they left Darlington and don’t plan to anytime soon.

09/01/2006 06:32 AM

brian france won’t be happy
till nascar has forgotten
all its historic past.he wants a politically correct
yuppie-want-a-be fan base.
with his car of tomorrow,
and its ricer rear wing mabe he will change the daytona 500 to the daytona drifting 500

M. B. Voelker
09/01/2006 07:43 AM

I suppose that having “only” been a Nascar fan for 7-8 years I’m too new to get it, but as long as they are racing at Darlington sometime what does it matter which date they choose?

Where was all this love for Darlington when they lost the date for not selling tickets?

IMO, if Fontana can’t sell out 2 dates they also should lose the second one.

And if Nascar wants to keep that date on the west coast I wonder if Irwindale could be upgraded for Cup? The Irwindale races I’ve seen on TV make it look that that’s an excellent short track to add to a Cup schedule that has too many big tracks and too few short tracks.

09/01/2006 09:30 AM

I agree with MB… a point…....Darlington is LABOR DAY…...always has been always will be! But I do agree with him that California doesn not need 2 races…..TOO BORING! So if Darlington that has the tradition and longevity can loose a race to not selling, so too should the NEW tracks, ie California, Kansas, Chicago, Texas etc…......what applies to one track should apply to ALL! So Lowes, Pocono, Loudon,Atlanta, any track…......if you don;’t sell you should be put to the same test! only fair way to give tracks races and keep the schedule reasonable for teams!

09/01/2006 11:48 AM

With all due respect M.B., you couldn’t be more wrong. I’m not questioning the type of fan you are, so please don’t misunderstand, but Darlington on Labor Day is akin to Yankee stadium in October. I don’t know of anyone who would have shead a tear if Darlington had lost the spring race. Losing the Labor Day race was, and still is, a very disturbing thing to a lot of NASCAR fans.

09/01/2006 12:03 PM

NASCAR (Brian France) has forgotten their roots. These same roots have made the France family very wealthy. Having a Labor Day (night race) makes no sense at all. Darlington was and still is Labor Day Racing.

M. B. Voelker
09/01/2006 03:30 PM

I don’t watch baseball so I have no clue what might be special about Yankee stadium in October.

I care about the racing at Darlington. I love it. Its my favorite track.

I just don’t see any particular reason that one date isn’t as good as any other date to race there.

09/01/2006 03:42 PM

It’s because Labor Day in Darlington signified the end of summer. It was usually unbearably hot, the asphalt always like a cheese grater, and winning the Southern 500 (or the Rebel 500) was more about survival than it was about having the fastest or best handling car. Labor Day racing in Darlington was about the raw and brash southern spirit. It was about Ned winning by 13 or so laps. It was about Bobby having the roof on his car tore open to somehow try let the heat escape. It was about Cale winning in his backyard. Just by you ssying “I just don’t see any particular reason that one date isn’t as good as any other date to race there” is proof enough that you don’t get it. Again, I’m not trying to attack you personnally or be combative, but you don’t have any clue what you’re talking about.

09/01/2006 07:19 PM

It’s also becasue the Southern 500 was the oldest race in NASCAR still being run. It was run on Labor Day before Daytona even existed, let alone before the Daytona 500 was the first race of every season. And that race is now “sacred” on the schedule. If NASCAR cared about its tradition OR its fans, the Southern 500 would be Sunday, not the “Sony HD Cookie-Cutter Parade 500.”

M. B. Voelker
09/04/2006 06:54 AM

No, Brian. I truly don’t get it.

That’s all atmosphere stuff that’s irrelevant to the racing. And the racing is what is important, not the atmosphere that surrounds it.

09/04/2006 08:31 PM

You guys don’t get it. France will never move the Labor Day race back to Darlington. It’s too country, too ole timey for him. Brian France has become the quentesential sellout. He has become the Vince McMahon of NASCAR. With the help of Darrell Waltrip’s mouth and his sidekicks Jeffie and Larry, the circus comes to town. And in his eyes, what better place than the epicenter of TV, Los Angeles. So I am afraid that Labor Day racing will be in LA until the big one drops it off in the Pacific.


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