The Track Too Tough To Cover

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These stately grandstands weren't at Darlington when I was growing up. It was then the back straight, and I sat in its rickety predecessors.

These stately grandstands weren’t at Darlington when I was growing up. It was then the back straight, and I sat in its rickety predecessors.

Clinton, S.C., Thursday, April 10, 2014, 5:33 p.m.

Darlington Raceway is my favorite track. This is only in part because it is great, though it undeniably is. It has to do with it being the place where my daddy took me over and over, and with being a South Carolinian because my native state is, like Darlington, rife with contradiction.

Whoever heard of a race track that was shaped like an egg?

Comparatively speaking, other tracks have straightaways. Darlington has sidewalks. The asphalt is theoretically wide, but very little of it is usable. Little of its water is potable, so to speak. The groove is little more than, well, the track.

Darlington is the only track that always gives me something to watch, which makes watching it on TV awful because I only see what TV chooses to show me, and, respectfully, that is most often not what I want to see.

This was Darlington's "board" ... in 1956.

This was Darlington’s “board” … in 1956.

Darlington is complex and hard to understand in an age when most fans don’t care to pay attention, so busy are they with their portable devices.

Yet I don’t want to go there anymore. It’s not much more than a two-hour drive from my house. Even though I love it more than any other track, the last couple years I covered its races, I commuted back and forth. Why? Because, as a writer, Darlington is one 1.366-mile pain in the ass. It is The Track Too Tough To Cover.

The last thing anyone in NASCAR wants to encourage is the watching of its races from the press box, probably because those who watch from the press box might see things that aren’t on TV. Darlington features a unique press box that offers a breathtaking view of the wrong side of the track. Pit road and the start-finish line cannot be seen from the press box.

That might be a '73 Mercury David Pearson is driving, but Carl Edwards still can't pass him. This photo was taken in 2008.

That might be a ’73 Mercury David Pearson is driving, but Carl Edwards still can’t pass him. This photo was taken in 2008.

The front and back straights were flip-flopped in 1997, but no more convenient press box has ever been constructed. Not too long ago, it was a fairly simple matter to hike over from the opposite side and cross the track, but then they closed that gate and built a new tunnel, only they didn’t allow anyone to drive through it, which, in turn, meant one could spend a half hour trying to snake through the mass of infield humanity in a car, or walk around the entire outside of the track – infield media center, inside of turn one, to press box, outside of three – and thus expend valuable time either way.

Which I still did, because I’m that much of a press-box stickler and I love Darlington so much.

Now that I don’t write about racing for a living, life is too short for that.

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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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7 Responses to The Track Too Tough To Cover

  1. Al says:

    I tricked my wife to attend my first race at Darlington. In 1968 the spring race was called the Rebel 400 and was run on Sat. We were returning from Fla. and I saw an ad for the race. I faked being tired and we spent the night in Savannah. Waking the next morning I talked the wife into going to the race as it was on the way home. Money was tight so we had to watch from the infield. We drove in. There were guys in cut offs, no shirts or shoes passed out in the back of pick up trucks. They never woke up during the race. Only now they looked more like steamed lobsters. We watched the race between the then turns three and four. It was great.

    I’ve been back many times since that memorable day for both the Busch and Cup races. I love the place. My last trip was for the first race on Mothers Day weekend. Sat in my favorite section, part way down the back stretch near turn two. Darling ton is what stock car racing is supposed to be. A track that puts a premium on a driver’s skill and perserverence. Just watching the drivers jockeying to get in line for turn one and the crossover in turns one and two is exciting in itself.

    While I think tv is not near as good as being at a race I think this is especially the case with Darlington. Once the race gets going there’s action all around the track and a tv camera can’t capture it.

    I wish we still had the old names for the races: Rebel 400, Mason-Dixon 500, World 600, National 500 etc. And I wish they still had the soldier in the Confederate uniform with the Stars and Bars jumping on the hood of the winning car. That was atmosphere.

  2. Monte says:

    Your memories are similar to mine. My first Darlington race was the 1970 Southern 500, won by Buddy Baker in Cotton Owens’ Dodge Daytona.

  3. Andy D says:

    I still call the races by their old names when I can remember them. The “Monster Energy 500 presented by Ford Trucks at Home Depot Speedway” just doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely. Of all the changes to stock car racing that have transpired since the Sixties and Seventies, the steady encroachment of advertising is what burns me the most.

    Although I don’t follow other sports, I think it’s shameful that teams sell naming rights to their venues. And when there is a steady turnover of naming rights it’s an obstacle to connect with the history of a team. Why would anyone pay to put their name on a stadium or series when half the fans still call it by the name it had two names ago?

  4. GinaV24 says:

    this is the first year since 2003 that we won’t be at Darlington for a race. The change to the April date conflicted in a major way with other work commitments that I have so it was just a no go no matter how I tried to work it out. We saw the last race on Labor Day when it was really the Southern 500 and we went to the unholy cold race when the idiots in NASCAR scheduled it in November. Sorry that we are missing it in person and since I truly despise the way Fox covers races any more, I’ll be “watching” the race via raceview, twitter & the radio feed. I would rather be there, sorry they moved it from Labor Day and annoyed that they moved it from Mother’s Day.

  5. Monte says:

    As noted freely hundreds of times, it is my favorite track.

  6. Dave Fulton says:

    My buddy and I wanted so desperately to go to the Southern 500 that late on Sunday night of Labor Day Weekend 1966, we boarded a Greyhound Bus in Richmond, Virginia and rode the hound to Darlington. It was an adventure I shall never forget and the first of many, many highly anticipated Darlington trips.

  7. Jeff says:

    I have been in South Carolina for one day in my life, since I am from “South”ern California and that day was March 16th, 2003 and I went to the Dodge Dealers 400 and well, we all know what an epic finish that was. My one day of being in South Carolina and at Darlington was a memory to last me a lifetime. I loved it!!!!!!! Darlington will always have a special place in my heart after that for sure. Jeff 😉

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