The Iconic Darlington Raceway and How The Legend Was ‘Shaped’
Darlington Raceway is located in Darlington County, just outside of Darlington, South Carolina. They call her The Lady In Black, though most know her as “The track too tough to tame”. Darlington Raceway goes by many names. Every one of them came to her honestly. She is a Lady, though too tough be treated like one. Drivers must attack the track as if they are mad at it!
Darlington Raceway has a legendary history and is forged in deep tradition. Though there was a time that no one would have ever dreamed that Darlington, Harold Brasington, could have created such an iconic part of motor-sports history out of a dusty cotton field and a little minnow pond.
It was 1933 when Harold and a few of his buddies took a trip up to Pennsylvania to see the Indy 500. He was in utter awe of the spectacle and couldn’t get the event and all it’s glory off his mind on the ride home. He had something else on his mind that night too, though knew his friends would think he was crazy.
The next morning he stood in a peanut and cotton field and watched the wind blow dust and weeds across the dew covered soil. Although on this cold crisp morning, Harold Brasington did not see the weeds, dust or even the dew glistening on the ground. He saw something else entirely. Something huge and there were thousands of other people standing as far as the eyes could see, and they too were enjoying his visio
Harold wanted to bring a race track to Darlington. Though not the old dirt tracks that were seen in other rural counties. He wanted a paved track like the one he seen in Indy! He wanted grandstands and a pit road similar to “Indy’s Gasoline Alley”. Though just as he imagined, when he began to share his vision with his friends, they laughed and called him crazy.
But Harold already figured they would, so it did not crush his dream and was not going to let either. He knew that he could change their outlook when it began to become a reality. He could see it already, and soon, they would as well.
Over the next decade or so, Harold would take his tractor, or a bulldozer and work on clearing the old cotton and peanut field in order to make way for what he hoped would be a track worthy enough for folks to pay money to enter and maybe even feature real stock cars as a main event.
So Harold, and a few fellas he hired to help, would go out and work on building a track. Though every one in town called him crazy, even called his project “Harold’s Folly”. He did not let that slow him down and him and the fellas began laying out a 1.25 mile track.
Those who could not see what he saw could all be damned. Darlington Raceway was under way and not even Harold could know the Legend he and his little crew was forging in that field
( …………..One of the most unique features in all of the current NASCAR tracks is Darlington’s egg shaped design. There is a reason it was created that way and it revolves around a minnow pond belonging to the land owner and the good nature of Harold Brasington…………..)
When Harold and the boys got to what would be Darlington’s turns 3 & 4, they ran into an issue. Just a hundred yards off what was to be the apex (the center of a curve), there was a small pond that the land owner, Sherman Ramsey and his friends and family used to stock minnows for fishing.
Now any other “big shot track developer” would have instantly had the pond drained and filled with dirt. The work would have continued and Darlington would have been shaped like every other ‘current’ cookie cutter track like Texas, Atlanta and Charlotte.
Harold was a businessman, but he was also a good ol’ country fella and if Mr. Ramsey wanted his minnow pond left alone, then by God he was not going to allow the minnow pond to be covered up. So the only option was to simply reshape the turns. That is exactly what they did too…….
……. NASCAR and every race fan that has seen a classic Southern 500 owes Sherman Ramsey and Harold for that. No way would Darlington be what it is had Harold gave in to reason that day. Sometimes logic and reasoning just doesn’t translate to fun and excitement.
The First Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway;
When tickets were printed and the track was ready to go racing, a date was decided. The first race at Darlington would be Labor Day 1950. Harold hoped as many as 10,000 would come out to see his so called “Folly”.
Folly be damned. Over 25,000 fans showed up that day and their minds were absolutely blew to mush by the outrageously awesome event they witnessed that day.
It took all of 6 hours to run, but race car driver Johnny Mantz won the first Southern 500 and when everyone left the track that day, most left with all the sights and sounds of the spectacle they had just witnessed fresh on their minds. Just as Harold Brasington did some 17 years earlier when he stood in the dew of the cotton field that grew up to become a legend.
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