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Darlington Raceway:  My next 30 years

 

I think I’ll take a moment to celebrate my age

The ending of an era, and the turning of a page

Now it’s time to focus in on where I go from here

Lord, have mercy on my next 30 years.

 

Darlington, SC – (May 24, 2004)  The lines above are from country music artist Tim McGraw’s hit single, “My Next 30 Years.” Although Darlington Raceway is nearly twice that age, many of this very popular tune’s songlines seem to parallel the numerous ongoing storylines of stock car racing’s most historic facility.

 

“I think I’ll take a moment to celebrate my age…”

 

There is much to celebrate in the continuing story that is Darlington Raceway. As NASCAR enters new, metropolitan markets and attempts to introduce and explain the sport to stock car racing novices, always in the rearview mirror are the peaceful farmlands of South Carolina.

 

Fifty-five years ago in Darlington, a field made way for the future. Black dirt gave way to black asphalt, and an idea found its identify as 75 cars lined up three abreast for the Labor Day spectacle called the Southern 500, the first stock car race ever completely run on pavement and the first-ever 500-mile event.

 

“The ending of an era, and the turning of a page…”

 

November 14, 2004 will go down in the history books as the date on which Darlington Raceway hosted the final running of the Mountain Dew Southern 500. In 2003, the track hosted the last Labor Day running of this legendary event.

 

Complaints about the brutal September heat or the frequent rains of March are now carried away on the winds of progress. Chattering manual typewriters and darkroom chemical aromas have disappeared from the press areas, replaced by laptop computers and electronically transmitted digital photos.

 

Fans who once slept on the ground now enjoy the air-conditioned comfort of fully equipped motorcoaches where the only humidity in the air is generated by the Jacuzzi.

 

Truly, one of life’s only constants is change.

 

“Now it’s time to focus in on where I go from here…”

 

A page turned does not necessarily signify a book closed.

 

In her usual contrary fashion, Darlington Raceway is both a throwback and forward-leaning, favoring greenery over gleaming chrome and climbing wisteria over high-rise skyboxes. On-track action unfailingly tips its hat and gives a nod to the no-holds-barred, Friday night backroad contests of days gone by.

 

The spirits of Johnny Mantz, Fireball Roberts and Buck Baker seem always to be nearby, but these days they’re sharing space with modern facility lighting fixtures and retaining walls enhanced by SAFER barriers.

 

As NASCAR continues to expand and evolve, Darlington Raceway must do the same. Next year, that evolution will include an entirely new race weekend, in May, and the first full weekend of racing under the lights at a track where, in years past, races sometimes had to end early due to darkness.

 

Racing’s grande dame is going prime time, and in her inimitable fashion will most certainly be nothing less than spectacular.

 

“Lord, have mercy on my next 30 years…”

 

Those who give in to the temptation to flip to the back of the book will find, not a conclusion, but many blank pages. Storied Darlington Raceway has many chapters yet to write.

 

The end? Hardly. Rather, to be continued…

 

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