How it all began: The Darlington Raceway

These are some of the photos taken during the earliest days of the Darlington Raceway in the 1950s. FILE PHOTOS

Story Courtesy of Darlington Raceway

In the fall of 1949, when a crisp breeze toyed with the loose soil of an old cotton field on the west side of rural Darlington, Harold Brasington saw more than just dirt dancing around that patch of land. He saw the future. He saw stock cars. Brasington, a local businessman, had a lofty vision that most of his peers dismissed as utterly ridiculous — building a paved superspeedway in Darlington. Nevertheless, believing that Bill France’s fledgling NASCAR just might catch on, Brasington set out in the fall of 1949 on a project known locally as “Harold’s Folly” to shape a 1.25-mile speedway on land that had once produced peanuts and cotton. Brasington’s plan called for a true oval, but the racetrack’s design had to be changed in order to satisfy Sherman Ramsey, the landowner, who did not want his nearby minnow pond disturbed. The west end of the track (Turns 3 and 4) was narrowed to accommodate the fishing hole, creating Darlington’s distinctive egg-shaped design. The first race was scheduled for Labor Day 1950, and when the day finally came the stands overflowed. Brasington expected no more than 10,000 fans, but the crowd of over 25,000 shocked him. Fans practically stood on top of each other and they scaled the fence just for a glimpse of the action. Californian Johnny Mantz drove to victory that day in the first Southern 500, which took over six hours to complete but set a precedent for a sport that would grow to be one of the largest spectator sports in the country. Over 65 years later, Darlington Raceway is still known as the track “Too Tough to Tame” with names like Baker, Flock, Thomas, Pearson, Yarborough, Petty, Earnhardt and Johnson becoming commonplace in victory lane. Darlington Raceway’s historical significance, as the original paved superspeedway in NASCAR, is unparalleled. The “Lady in Black” is for stock car racing what Lambeau Field is for football and Wrigley Field for baseball, the historical venue that shaped and molded their respective sports, which fans still revere to this day. Its place in the history of the sport sets it apart from all other tracks. It brings its fans the great racing of today mixed with the nostalgia of the past. Darlington Raceway continues to be an active community partner, hosting a variety of community events and participating in numerous local activities each year. It’s a place of history where fans reminisce about the past, but create lasting memories of the present when NASCAR roars into Darlington Raceway each year.

Author: Stephan Drew

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