Monday, May 3, 2010

The Southern 500 on Mother's Day Weekend? Too Tough to Take!

From 1950 to 2004, Labor day weekend and the Southern 500 at Darlington were linked together as one of the greatest NASCAR traditions. When NASCAR decided to bump a Darlington date off the schedule and hand the Labor Day race to California, they got the bold idea to ruin another tradition which had been no racing on Mother's Day weekend.
For almost every year of NASCAR's existence, two weekends were pretty sacred for no racing; Easter and Mother's day weekend. Those days were considered family days. For Mother's day, it was said that Big Bill France's wife requested that no driver's Mother should have to see their son injured on their special day while participating in such a damgerous sport.
In one swift scheme to go for the gold, NASCAR killed two NASCAR traditions with one big wad of cash, or perhaps we should say illusions of creating cash. The move didn't really work out well. California Speedway with the massive Los Angeles market near by was given the Labor day weekend date in 2005 and Darlington lost the Southern 500 and was pushed to Mother's day weekend.
The move to California was a disaster. No one came. Empty seats were everywhere while the beaches along the coast were packed. Last season, NASCAR/ISC saw that Californians had too much to do on that weekend and traded dates with Atlanta, as if racing in October will somehow entice Los Angelenes to take a drive to beautiful Fontana. Good luck with that one.
Nevertheless, Darlington calls this weekend's race the Southern 500. While it took some getting used to the cheapening of what that race meant to the history of the sport and the date it was always on, it's still a great track that is a breath of fresh air among all the cookie-cutter tracks on tour.      
Beyond all Darlington’s great history that makes each visit special, the track configuration and difficulty the drivers have attempting to conquer it make it one of the most fun races of the year to watch. It’s been called the track that is “Too Tough to Tame” and also “The Lady in Black” as somewhat of a reference that if you get out of line and too close to wall, the “Lady” will slap a Darlington stripe on you to make you think twice about trying it again. The “Lady” is a mean angry woman to some drivers, not exactly too appropriate of a pairing for an event held on Mother’s day weekend.
It’s odd egg-shaped 1.33-mile track with each side of the track vastly different. Back in 1949 the plan was to turn this peanut farm into a traditional oval with equal turns. At the request of the neighboring property, Darlington’s plans were modified to not disturb the minnow pond next door. Because of that, NASCAR fans have been blessed with the most unique track on tour with one end being a tight turn and the other with a wider sweeping turn. The minnow pond still exists to this day as does the unique turns which create such great racing.

The dilemma for most of the teams is figuring out which turn they want to set up best for. It’s very rare to see any car be perfectly set-up for each side equally. The one thing they don’t have to deal with like the drivers for the first 58 years did is the old sand-paper grit surface that ate away at any kind tire compound used which required drivers to save their tires like no other track. The track was resurfaced in 2008 and is super smooth like Richmond now. There still is that abrasive sandy soil Darlington has that the wind pushes across 365 days a year and will eventually wear it down a bit, but it’ll never be the same.

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