NASCAR's latest chapter in Darlington's rich legacy
DARLINGTON: Harold Brasington III remembers walking through infield in Darlington Track When he was young with his late grandfather, track builder Harold Brasington, while his grandfather greeted people like Richard Petty , David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Dale Earnhardt.
The youngest in Brasington, 52, will see the story once again on Sunday: the 70-year-old circuit will host the return of NASCAR Series Cup racing, among the top events in sports, returns from a global close forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Xfinity Series will then fire up for the first time since March on Tuesday night at the 1,366-mile, egg-shaped oval. Cup racers come back for Wednesday for a weeknight, primetime race - the kind fans have urged NASCAR to try - to cap a busy time for the Lady in Black.
I think Darlington is the poster child for inspiration and lucky to join, Brasington said.
It is difficult to argue.
The track hosted two NASCAR races every year from 1950-2003, including the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend, an event considered a marquee race for the stock car series. But a push for bigger TV ratings and fancier, modern raceways - and some neglect in upkeep at the old country track - had some wondering if Darlington might join the list of shuttered, defunct Southern tracks like Rockingham and North Wilkesboro.
Instead, it has been held on as NASCAR embraced its history as the oldest paved superspeedway. Since 2015, Darlington has held the circuit's throwback weekend - back on Labor Day - with a popular celebration of NASCAR 's colorful past.
Come Sunday, that legacy will be one of hope as NASCAR powers back up.
For us, it is exciting that we have the opportunity to go out and compete. Kurt Busch said.
Busch was involved in one of Darlington's most memorable moments, a last-round and metal duel to the finish with Ricky craven at the 2003 spring race. The two racers slid past the finish line locked together with Craven winning by two-thousandths of a second, tied for the closest finish in NASCAR history.
Darlington is perhaps best known as The Track Too Tough To Tame and, like all old circuits, it has its quirks. Brasington had envisioned a standard oval, but had a problem: A local landowner didn't want to give up his small fish pond, so Darlington was built with what is now four times tighter than the other end of the track.
Talk to almost any driver and it won't be long before Darlington is told you have to race on the track. Asymmetrical curves mean drivers who spend too much time focused on their enemies will certainly hit the wall, and often do,
That's why Darlington's list of champions reads like the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Pearson heads things with 10 victories with Earnhardt right behind at nine. Jeff Gordon has seven.
Bill Elliott won Winston Million bonus prize at Darlington in 1985 for the driver to capture three of NASCAR 's four crown jewel races. Yarborough famously went over the wall here in 1965 in a horrific-looking crash. He holds the track record with five Southern 500 wins.
It is a long, storied history Darlington Track President Kerry Tharp has gladly brought to the forefront since taking the job in 2016. This year's throwback celebration, still scheduled for Sept. 6 as the series' opening playoff race, honors NASCAR champions.
First, though, you eat NASCAR 's return to the track this weekend. Tharp can't imagine a more fitting or daunting mission for his Darlington crew.
Estamos orgullosos de eso, said. Sabemos que conlleva una gran responsabilidad, pero estamos a la altura de la tarea.
Brasington's family has enjoyed their connection to NASCAR - one of Darlington's grandstands is named for the founder - and took great pride in learning the track would host Sunday's race.
Brasington III said when I lived in Oregon in the early 1990s, I saw a person at a grocery store with a Darlington T-shirt and the customer told him his family came to the country track for NASCAR every year.
He brought me home the impact the track has had on people, he said, chuckling.
Tharp, who has worked at NASCAR since 2005, got his first true appreciation of the track from the late Jim Hunter, a racing executive and former Darlington president who told him: You're going to really, really think a lot of this place one day. This is a special place.
Tharp has become a true believer.
Podríamos no ser la pista más elegante o más moderna que existe, said. Pero creo que somos los mejores.