NASCAR Hall Of Famers Reflect On Darlington Throwback Weekendby Jason Beck September 6, 2015 0 comments
Photo Credit: Wayne Thomas
DARLINGTON, SC – It’s a muggy Labor Day weekend at Darlington Raceway, and it feels like the summer of ’69. The infield is full of NASCAR stars like Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett and Leonard Wood – and they all have a story to tell.
On a weekend honoring NASCAR’s most historic speedway, some of the sport’s Hall of Fame inductees shared their memories of conquering the Lady in Black. No one is more qualified to speak on that subject than Ned Jarrett, who won the 1965 Southern 500 by a record 14 laps.
Jarrett said Darlington is defined by its difficulty. His epic win is a prime example.
“I’d love to sit here and tell you I just flat out ran them – lapped them that many times – but that is not the case,” Jarrett said. “That was a day everyone had trouble, including myself.
“It was an extremely hot day – more than 100 degrees – the track temp was over 150. They were wrecking, they were blowing tires, they were blowing engines, you name it,” he said. “It was one of those days whoever survived the thing was going to win it.”
Bobby Allison, who won five races at the tricky Darlington oval, remembers the challenge of winning the race in 1983. It was another scorching hot Labor Day weekend in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. Allison’s idea for homemade air conditioning didn’t sit well with NASCAR officials.
“I was running along and it was a pretty hot day; everybody’s tongue was hanging out including mine,” Allison said. “I told my crew chief Gary Nelson to ‘hand me an air chisel I have to cut a notch in this roof to get some air in this thing.’
“They black flagged me so I had to come in, and Gary Nelson and the boys were bending that flap back down and taping it, which (NASCAR) said we had to do,” he said. “It tickled me to the point that I got revived and went on to win the race.”
Richard Petty, the sport’s win leader and ‘king,’ holds the record for most starts at Darlington. He won three times at the track but also understands how tough it is to tame.
“I was always leading the race and my battery would fall out of it or I’d blow a tire or someone would run into me. My luck just wasn’t good here,” Petty said. “It wasn’t anybody’s fault – it wasn’t my fault or the crew’s fault. Fate just wouldn’t let it be a good race track for us.”
Leonard Wood is a car owner and crew chief known for hiring some of Darlington’s greatest drivers, including all-time winner David Pearson. His excitement about the Bojangles’ Southern 500’s return to its traditional Labor Day race was obvious.
“I’m just so happy they have brought the Southern 500 back on Labor Day, because I can just remember so much excitement built up when you come to Darlington on Labor Day,” Wood said.
Wood’s current driver, Ryan Blaney, will roll off ninth in tonight’s race.
Allison agrees the return to the Labor Day date has brought added excitement to the race weekend. He said honoring tradition is important to the health of the sport.
“This race belongs on Labor Day weekend,” Allison said. “Things have got down a little bit, and some of the fans have drifted away, so anything we can do to excite them a little bit is good.”