Darlington Raceway as written August 28, 2003
Five years ago, when it was announced that the France family was pulling annual Labor Day Southern 500 event from Darlington and moving it to California, I was asked by the Sumter (S. C.) THE ITEM to write a series of articles about my experience at Darlington Raceway. This was done rather hurridly, but I do have three of the six segments that I will post.Just a note.....It took 17 days to get all the cars inspected before time trials began.Darlington Raceway August 28, 2003 From Dargan WattsMy first look at Darlington Raceway was in 1950 as my father and I went past the construction area on our way to one of two livestock auctions held on the east side of Darlington each week. I asked Daddy what was going on and he told me that this fella had lost his marbles and was building a race track. He explained to me that a man named Harold Brasington had approached him and others at one of the auctions and asked if any of them would be interested in investing in the project at $10 per share. Daddy said that he and most of the other men laughed at this man and his crazy idea.Well, Brasington went on with his project without any engineering help what-so-ever and scheduled the first event on Labor Day, 1950. Daddy and I were on our way to a sale on the Thursday (I guess it was the opening day of qualifying) and he asked if I wanted to "watch the cars run" while he was at the sale, but I declined because I had never seen so many people in one place in my life and I was afraid he would never find me after the sale.I don't remember much of what happened at the first event, nor the second, but in 1952, I remember I was to meet my ride home from midget football practice at Tindal's Gulf Station on Main Street in Bishopville and while waiting, people who attended the race were stopping in to fill up with gas and go to the restroom, before heading for home in all directions. Race cars would pull in and fill up with gas and this gave me a chance to see my first race cars up close. Some of the cars were being driven, while others were being towed by using a three-point hitch.The cars had gas cans, spare tires and jacks in the trunk and on the back seats.I do remember a few fans who had over-indulged in the spirits jug and had been "whupped up on" in the infield and a couple of them had white bandages tied around their heads.Remember when school started after Labor Day? Also, football season didn't start until after school started, but the first day of practice was August 15.For many years, my Labor Day mornings and afternoons were spent running, blocking and tackling at football practice held beside Highway 15 in Bishopville. The highway was full of race fans heading to the track in the morning and coming back through afterwards. US Highway 15 was the best route from Miami to New York back then and it was always busy, so add the Darlington crowd and you had plenty of bottlenecks even back then.Through the years, many tickets have been sold for the famed "Lady In Black" racing events and the ticket holders have attended, but have never seen a race. From about the third year on, the night before became the "World's Biggest Outdoor Party" as everything under the sun has happened in the infield the night before the big race. Friends are made and each race, these people will get together for an all-night party and cook-out. Heaven only knows what is in some of the recipes, but the aroma beats that of any county fair anywhere. Some fans say they wouldn't be caught dead sitting in the stands.There is music, games, arguments and much more going on from the time the fans start staking their claims on their territories until they start to leave hours after the last sound of a race car engine has been heard. For some....They never heard the start or the finish.Oh yea, I attended my first race at Darlington during the initial running of the Rebel 300 in May, 1957. Paid $5 for the reserved seat. My first Southern 500 was five years later. Danged football practice!