Southern 500: The Incredible History of the 73-Year-Old NASCAR Race
NASCAR is one of the most popular American pastimes. A key feature of NASCAR is the number of different and unique races the drivers face. One of the most unique and difficult tracks is Darlington Raceway, home to the Southern 500 race.
Here’s a look at the over history of the Southern 500 and all facets of the race, including how it’s changed over the years and who’s won the Southern 500 the most.
When was the first Southern 500?
NASCAR’s Hall of Fame reports that the nearly 500-mile race first began on September 4, 1950. The Southern 500, and the racetrack it takes place on, Darlington Raceway, were unique at the time. NASCAR was in its infancy back then, and most of the race tracks were less than a mile long and on dirt.
Harold Brasington, a peanut farmer in Southern Carolina, was inspired by the Indy 500. He decided to build his own track. It was 1.25 miles long, high-banked, and paved. Additionally, it also had a unique egg-shape because a nearby farmer owned a pond and refused to get out of the way. Construction had to adjust to compensate for it.
Southern 500 schedule: The race date has changed four times over the years
From the race’s beginning in 1950 all the way to 2003, NASCAR scheduled the Southern 500 to start on Labor Day weekend. In the early years, the race was held on Labor Day, but it shifted slightly to the entire weekend in the ’80s. The first major scheduling change happened in 2004, when the race moved to November 14.
That shift to November was short-lived, as from 2005-13, the Southern 500 moved to Mother’s Day weekend. Then, in 2014, NASCAR shifted the Southern 500 once again, this time to April 12. Just like in 2004, though, this was a one-year shift. In 2015, NASCAR changed the race’s schedule again. Since 2015, the Southern 500 has returned to Labor Day weekend.
The history of the Southern 500 name
Brasington built the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. Since the total mileage of the race added up to just about 500 miles, it’s not surprising the race was called the Southern 500. What is surprising is its official name.
Unlike many other races, the Southern 500 was not sponsored by any corporation for much of its history. That changed in 1989, and ever since then, its official name includes its sponsor. Currently, the race is officially called the Cook Out Southern 500.
Which NASCAR driver has won the Southern 500 the most?
It’s not surprising that the driver who’s won the Southern 500 the most is a legend. Jeff Gordon has six wins in this race, including four consecutive wins between 1995-98. Cale Yarborough ranks second place with five wins. Bobby Allison is in third with four wins.
That said, the Southern 500 had other interesting records. One of the race’s record runs happened back in 1955. Herb Thomas dominated his foes and won the race for the third time. This was special since no other drivers had won the race more than twice.
Another interesting record run at the Southern 500 happened in 1965, according to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Ned Jarrett won the race for the first and only time in his career. However, he was 14 laps ahead of second place — a margin of victory unbeaten to this day.