Looking Back: 2010 Darlington Historic Racing Festival
This article was original published in Vintage Motorsport.
By: John R. Hendrick
Opened by local businessman Harold Brasington in 1950, the proposed site was a former cotton and peanut farm, once referred to as “Harold’s Folly,” since many locals weren’t convinced that the fledgling NASCAR series would take the proposed track seriously. Well, 60 successful years later, Darlington has certainly seen its share of stock cars and early in its life, both AAA and USAC Champ cars. Many epic battles among some of NASCAR’s greatest driving legends ultimately have proved Brasington’s instincts correct.
Nicknamed “Too Tough to Tame,” Darlington has the most unique 1.25-mile configuration of all active NASCAR tracks, leading to four very distinct shaped turns, often providing new and old competitors with the opportunity to earn the “Darlington Stripe.” Taking home some of the traditional red and white wall paint on the car bodywork because of nicking the outside wall is considered an honor among drivers. More egg than oval, the shape occurred due to land owner Sherman Ramsey’s desire to retain his nearby minnow pond at the west end of the property. As a result, Turns 3 and 4 are much narrower than Turns 1 and 2. With more than $20 million in renovations over the last three years, Darlington’s infrastructure has been modernized, while retaining its infamous gritty charm.
The brainchild of track President Chris Browning, Darlington’s goal for the Festival as explained by Mr. Browning is “Creating an event which will highlight and showcase the storied oval track end of the vintage racing market for stock cars and Indy cars, much like Monterey and Road America have done for road courses catering to the sports car vintage market.”
For the spectator, the Darlington Historic Festival offered not only exceptional up close access to cars, owners and drivers of some of the most best vintage Stock Cars, Indy Roadsters, Sprint Cars and Midgets, but a wide variety of other activities sure to please any automotive fan. The staff at Darlington did a marvelous job in the overall event setup allowing spectator traffic to flow smoothly in and around the paddock stalls and with more than 100 entries, a tour through the paddock provided hours of automotive viewing entertainment and conversation.
Track time viewing for Spectators was virtually non-stop, with six distinct classes running every 20 minutes in a rotating schedule throughout the weekend. Darlington went so far as to allow spectators access to a large elevated platform on Turn 1 normally reserved only for media, which provided an outstanding view of cars coming down the front stretch past the finish line and around the banking on Turns 1 and 2. This proved to be a crowd favorite with 15-20 people, cameras in hand, on the platform at any time during the three-day event.
Notable cars that drew crowds to the fence were Joe Freeman’s No. 76 ’60 Watson Indy Roadster “Joe Hunt Magneto Special” (see VM 7.1) and No. 67 ’63 “John Frey” dirt Champ car. The No. 3 ’61 Pontiac “Daytona Beach Kennel Club” was an ex-David Pearson machine and the No. 27 ’64 Ford Galaxie “Holly Farms Poultry” was a Junior Johnson re-creation. A special surprise for the spectators was an appearance by Andy Hurtubise, son of driving legend Jim Hurtubise, turning a handful of laps in a ’65 Hart Watson Sprint car.
Additionally, with more than 40 cars in the custom car corral, there was something to suit everyone’s favorite hot rod and street car style. Given the sheer volume of parts and pieces available through the various automotive vendors in the swap meet, spectators could nearly build a vintage or custom car onsite! A walk through the swap meet found hundreds of original and retro parts for many of the cars participating in the event.
Event participants were treated to a variety of activities, aside from the abundant track time, including a number of entertaining and informative seminars, notably a fascinating session hosted by collector Joe Freeman titled, “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t, Baby?” It detailed the process of authenticating and documenting vintage race cars. By far though, the highlight of the weekend for many participants was the Friday evening dinner and Q&A sessions with early NASCAR luminaries Cotton Owens and Bud Moore, which produced so many hilarious “inside the series stories” as to require an entire article from that two hours!
While the Festival is more an exhibition event than a racing event, the track management did provide for numerous competitor awards at the event’s conclusion on Sunday afternoon.
If your tastes in vintage racing run towards stock cars and Indy cars, you certainly won’t go wrong with a visit in 2011 to the fourth Installment of the Darlington Historic Festival…an event that will surely become Too Tough to Tame!
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