I was once told anything over 1.366 miles was a waste of asphalt. That’s especially true this weekend when the famed Darlington Raceway returns with a time honored tradition of the Labor Day classic known by many names Rebel 500 in the past but more recently known and time honored by NASCAR fans as the Southern 500.
In 2003 NASCAR in the midst of losing long time sponsor of the sport Winston announced a schedule realignment that would move the Labor Day race from Darlington which has run there since 1950 to a newer Auto Club Speedway.
"I feel for our race fans, the folks who buy tickets, and I also want to be a good community citizen," said Darlington president Andrew Gurtis. "But the truth of the matter is, twice a year the NASCAR world is going to descend on Darlington Raceway."
Over the years that followed the move California hosted several of the Labor Day races while Darlington bounced dates around late spring to early summer until 2008 when NASCAR announced Auto Club Speedway would lose the date. Following the announcement and lacking ticket sales at Auto Club over the years the track was reduced down to one event weekend per year. This time Atlanta would get their chance to host the traditional weekend event.
"Fans have been clamoring for a Sprint Cup Series race under the lights at Atlanta Motor Speedway," said AMS president and general manager Ed Clark. "It's thrilling to bring Labor Day racing back to the south on NASCAR's fastest track. This will be a great opportunity for Atlanta Motor Speedway to celebrate our 50th year of racing."
Late in the 2014 season while speaking to the media Burton Smith chairman of Speedway Motorsports announced a change in the dates for his track Bristol Motor Speedway that would move the date with better weather let slip that part of the deal would see what fans wanted for nearly a dozen years, the return of the Southern 500 on Labor Day at Darlington Raceway.
"I think we did them a favor and they did us one," Smith said. "I think they kind of needed that Southern 500 thing back in Darlington. So going back there, I thought that was a good thing."
When Chip Wile the President of Darlington Raceway bought the news of the return it was as Christmas had come early to the NASCAR fans. Social media exploded in the hours and days following the announcements commending both NASCAR and the track for working together to bring the race back to where it belonged.
“This is a true example of Darlington Raceway, ISC and NASCAR all working together to give fans what they have wanted for many years – the tradition of stock car racing on Labor Day weekend at the Lady in Black,” said track President Chip Wile. “We can’t thank our leaders at ISC and NASCAR enough for working with us to bring back such a historic date on the 2015 NASCAR calendar.”
Now here we are nearly a year after the announcement and just days away from the running of the 65th Southern 500, everyone from NASCAR, teams, sponsors, and even International Speedway are marketing this as a homecoming game. Teams are going all in with throwback themes on cars honoring past drivers and sponsors who have graced the sport or taken the checkered flag at Darlington. NBC Sports are bringing in Ned Jarrett, Ken Squier, and Dale Jarrett to call part of the race live on national television for some old school flair.
Many of these marketing efforts thanks for Daryl Wolfe who heads up track owner International Speedway marketing department going full in to make this one of NASCAR’s biggest homecomings to date.
At the end of the weekend the fans are seeing history in the making with NASCAR giving the fans exactly what they have asked for over the past 12 years since the removal of the Labor Day weekend event. Teams are bringing some of the history of the sport and honoring the past with the schemes they will run all weekend.
Qualifying for Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 will take place on Saturday September 5th at 1:45pm and Sunday night tradition returns for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 to the track Too Tough to Tame with NBCSN taking to the air at 7:00pm with green flag set just after 7:20pm, 367 laps(501.3 miles) will make the distance.