On Monday, September 4, 1950 — Labor Day — NASCAR ran its first ever Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina.
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Darlington Raceway’s Southern 500 was an important race for several reasons, first of which is the fact that retired racer Harold Brasington designed the track with the intention of competing with the Indianapolis 500; after all, if Indy cars could run for 500 miles, why couldn’t a stock car? Brasington went out and bought 70 acres of land from a farmer — but in order to make good on his promise that he wouldn’t disturb that farmer’s minnow pond, Brasington had to design the oval track to look more like an egg than a proper oval. That corner had to be tighter, narrower, and more steeply banked than any of the other tracks because of minnows.
Brasington and Bill France Sr. struck a deal, and the first Southern 500 race was set for Labor Day in 1950. It was a unique event for many reasons — mainly because NASCAR had opted to co-sanction this event alongside its rival, the Central States Racing Association, in order to attract a larger crowd. The double-sanction saw over 80 entrants show up for the race, looking to win the $25,000 purse that would be awarded to the first person to cross the finish line after 500 miles.
The Indy 500 influence was huge for this first event. Brasington organized a two-week qualifying scheme similar to what was done at Indy, and he allowed a whopping 75 cars to start the race in 25 rows of three.
That first race was won by a driver named Johnny Mantz, who was competing in a car owned by Bill France Sr. The race would go down in history as the biggest NASCAR race ever at the time.
Compared to other tracks NASCAR was racing, Darlington was pretty long, which truly showcased the high speeds at which these stock cars could compete. It is, to this day, one of the most challenging tracks on the NASCAR schedule.