Celebrating the past, present and future at Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway is celebrating “NASCAR Champions … Past, Present and Future” for its throwback weekend celebration on Sept. 4-6. Another champion will be crowned in 2020 and Darlington Raceway will also be host to the opening round of the NASCAR Playoffs, which will declare its 72nd champion since 1949.
Each month, the track will recognize NASCAR Cup Series champions from specific decades, beginning with the 1950s champions (and some from the 1940s).
“It’s an exciting time for Darlington Raceway as the track’s 2020 campaign will feature our award-winning throwback weekend celebrating NASCAR’s champions, plus we’ll open the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs for the first time on Sept. 6,” track President Kerry Tharp said. “We’re excited to be able to celebrate the champions of our sport each month, beginning with the 1950s, and recognize their accomplishments that built stock car racing into what it is today.”
Here’s a look at the six champions from that era:
— 1948 NASCAR Modified Champion, 1949 NASCAR Strictly Stock Champion – Red Byron
Red Byron, who won the inaugural NASCAR modified championship in 1948, would win NASCAR’s Strictly Stock title (now the current NASCAR Cup Series) in 1949 with two victories during the eight-race campaign. Due to health complications from World War II, Byron was only able to compete in 15 races from 1949-51, but won back-to-back championships in ’48-49, becoming the sport’s first champion. For his success, Byron was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2018.
— 1950 NASCAR Grand National Champion – Bill Rexford
·Bill Rexford won his one and only NASCAR championship in 1950 in a close finish that saw him beat out Fireball Roberts during the 19-race campaign. Rexford posted one victory at Canfield Speedway in Ohio that season and had five top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in a season that saw seven different drivers take the points lead. He raced up until 1953.
— 1951 and 1953 NASCAR Grand National Champion – Herb Thomas
Herb Thomas was a 48-time winner in NASCAR’s top series, scoring all his wins between 1950 and 1956, including the famed Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in 1951, 1954 and 1955. His 1951 Southern 500 victory (in the Hudson Hornet) propelled him to the championship that year, which included seven wins and 16 top-five finishes in 35 starts. His 1953 championship consisted of the most wins (12), top-five’s (27) and top-10’s (31) that season in a dominant performance. Thomas was elected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013.
— 1952 and 1955 NASCAR Grand National Champion – Tim Flock
A 2014 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee, Tim Flock posted all 39 of his career victories during the ’50s. His career win percentage was 22.5 percent, which is the highest among all drivers with at least 100 starts in the series. Flock earned 122 top-10s during the 1950s, and only 22 of those were not top-five finishes. Flock won the series championship in both 1952 and 1955. Based on the point standings, he won the 1952 championship by just starting the final race at West Palm Beach. His 1955 title was one of the most dominant in series history after winning 18 races in 39 starts. He won the ’55 championship by over 1,500 points over second-place Buck Baker. His 18 wins in 1955 were not surpassed until Richard Petty won 27 races in 1967.
— 1954, 1958 and 1959 NASCAR Grand National Champion – Lee Petty
Lee Petty competed in 379 events over the 11-year period (1949-1959), winning 48 of them, including the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959. Petty won a series-best three championships in the decade while also scoring the most top-10 and top-five finishes in the era — 297 and 206.
In the first Daytona 500 that was held at Daytona International Speedway in 1959, Petty and Johnny Beauchamp battled to a side-by-side finish. Although Beauchamp was declared the unofficial winner, Petty was awarded the official victory by NASCAR three days later after reviewing photographs and newsreel footage. He was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011. His son, Richard, went on to be the all-time winningest driver in NASCAR history (200) wins. He passed his dad in all-time NASCAR Cup Series wins in 1967.
— 1956 and 1957 NASCAR Grand National Champion – Buck Baker
Buck Baker, a 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, won back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series titles in 1956 and 1957. He amassed 14 victories during the 1956 campaign, which was six more than the second-place finisher in the points standings (Speedy Thompson). The 1957 campaign was equally impressive as Baker won 10 races and had 30 top-10 finishes in 40 starts. He won 46 total races in his career with 372 top-10 finishes and 246 top-five showings.