Encountering racing's past in unusual places at Darlington Raceway

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It can hardly be compared to an archeological project, but workers at Darlington Raceway are certainly uncovering bits and pieces of racing's past as the track's construction and renovation work progresses. In the course of pressure-washing the east infield access tunnel in Turn 1, decades of history were revealed as layers of paint were removed. Wall signage from sponsors dating back to the 1950s was uncovered and, in two notable cases, is still recognizable. Air Lift Corporation The first sponsor's name to be uncovered was Air Lift. Based in Lansing, Michigan, the Air Lift Corporation manufactured air springs for performance handling, off-road and trailer towing. According to a press release dating back to the mid-1970s, an association between Bobby Griffin, an Oldsmobile dealer from Darlington, and driver Buck Baker first introduced the Air Lift Air Spring to stock car racers as a worthwhile device in helping keep car suspensions alive under grueling race conditions. The Air Lift Corporation sponsored NASCAR's Rookie Award in 1973. They also sponsored the #87 1949 Oldsmobile which is now housed in the Darlington Raceway Stock Car Museum. The #87 is owned today by a trust managed by the Pemberton family, which owned Air Lift, and the Griffin family, who first introduced the Air Lift Air Spring to NASCAR. Buck Baker, Paul Goldsmith, Lee Petty and Darryl Derringer all drove the Air Lift-sponsored #87 Oldsmobile. Pure Oil Also buried under years of paint at Darlington was signage promoting Pure Oil. Pure Oil can be traced back to 1887. In 1948, the company went to the brand-new sanctioning body known as NASCAR with an idea of promoting their brand in exchange for fuel to be used at races on the NASCAR circuit. This deal, made with Bill France, Sr., turned Pure Oil in the "official gasoline of NASCAR." In 1965, after experiencing some financial difficulty due to the price wars of the 1950s, Pure Oil merged with Union Oil. Union later became Union 76, and eventually Unocal. The 2006 Dodge Charger 500 weekend at Darlington Raceway will include practice and qualifying for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series on Friday, May 12, followed by the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 NASCAR Busch Series race under the lights that evening. Matt Kenseth was the race winner in 2005. On Saturday, May 13, Darlington will host Cup series racing for the 57th consecutive year. The 2006 Dodge Charger 500 will be run under the lights in its entirety. Tickets for all events are on sale now. For more information, call the Raceway ticket hotline toll-free at 866.459.RACE, or log onto to www.racetickets.com.

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