McCarter: Drivers must earn their stripe at Darlington

McCarter: Drivers must earn their stripe at Darlington

August 31st, 2017 by Mark McCarter in Sports - Nascar

Kevin Harvick, front, and Joey Logano compete in a NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway in April 2014. The South Carolina track will host the Bojangles' Southern 500 on Sunday night.

Photo by Mike McCarn

The Darlington Stripe. Cale Yarborough. The egg-shaped oval. David Pearson. Ramsey's Pond. All those hokey 1960s movies where they went racing for glory and girls. All that lore.

I am headed to Darlington Raceway this weekend.

Waxing poetic once in another publication, I suggested "Darlington is a visit to the attic in your grandmother's old house in the country."

Now, I suspect, it's going to seem like a visit to a class reunion. It's been 20 years since I've last seen the South Carolina track, and I'm curious how it has aged. Better than I have, I hope.

I love my sports history. Which is probably why Darlington was always my favorite of the two dozen NASCAR speedways where I've watched races. I can pelt you with all sorts of lore, old quotes and memories.

Damage is shown on NASCAR Cup Series driver Danica Patrick's car in May 2013 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. Known as "The Track Too Tough to Tame," many drivers have earned the so-called Darlington Stripe by making contact with the wall at the egg-shaped, 1.3-mile oval.

Damage is shown on NASCAR Cup Series driver...

Photo by MIC SMITH

The rear of Jeff Gordon's car (24) comes off the ground during a wreck with Casey Mears, top left, Johnny Benson (10) and Dave Blaney (77) during the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend in 2003 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.

The rear of Jeff Gordon's car (24) comes...

Photo by MARY ANN CHASTAIN

I traveled there a couple of times with the late Conner Gilbert, who covered racing for the Chattanooga News-Free Press. That was so long ago that we lowly sportswriters would stay in the same motel as drivers. There we were one day, fishing through pockets for change for the vending machine as Dale Earnhardt Sr. walked up doing the same.

Darlington was NASCAR's first fully paved track, and it ran its first race in 1950. There were 75 cars in the field, lined up three abreast in an homage to the Indianapolis 500. Johnny Mantz won the race in a Plymouth co-owned by Bill France. To minimize the wear from the gritty pavement, the team used truck tires instead of automobile tires.

According to local legend, track owner Harold Brasington won the land from J.S. Ramsey in a poker game and bowed to one of Ramsey's wishes — that he leave intact a minnow pond as he built the speedway. To do so, the track wouldn't be a perfect oval, with a more pointed set of turns at one end.

The Darlington Stripe is historic. It's the tattoo every racer eventually gets from running too high and brushing the wall, leaving streaks of gray-white paint on the car and smudges of rainbow colors all over the wall.

An old quote I collected from Kyle Petty: "You hear 'Race the race track, race the race track,' and that is pretty much the case a lot of the time. But it goes further than that. You're not only racing the race track, you have to race and dodge all of the guys who forgot to race the race track."

NASCAR fans of a certain generation complain the sport has turned its back on its past, but Darlington tries to bring it back. Track officials are paying homage to all that history with a throwback theme, with some cars bearing special paint schemes that will bring back memories.

I can't wait to get there and go rummaging through the attic one more time.

* Last race: Kyle Busch won the most recent Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, on Aug. 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

* Next race: Bojangles' Southern 500, Darlington Raceway, 6 p.m. Sunday, NBC Sports Network.

* Pick to win: A different driver has won each of the past 11 races here, but we'll pick 2013 winner Matt Kenseth to break the streak.

* Pit notes: If you liked "Ocean's Eleven" and director Steven Soderbergh's other caper movies, catch "Logan Lucky," which has been labeled "Ocean's 7-11." It centers around the Coca-Cola 600 and — pay attention — it's loaded with NASCAR driver cameos. The most ironic: A guy once caught doing 128 mph in a 45 mph zone plays a state trooper. ... Expect Martin Truex Jr. to clinch the regular-season title Sunday. He needs only 20 more points to do so, which means he only needs to finish 17th or better. ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been carrying on fun banter with Uber on Twitter, complaining his Uber rating had dropped. The company offered advice: "1. Don't ask to swap seats with the driver. 2 Less pit stops. 3 Use the doors — no exiting through the window."

* Fast 5: 1. Busch, 2. Truex, 3. Kenseth, 4. Denny Hamlin, 5. Kevin Harvick.

* What they're saying: "My first Cup race at Darlington was 2007, and I won the pole. Truth be told, it scared the daylights out of me." — Clint Bowyer

Contact Mark McCarter at markfmccarter@gmail.com.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com