|Johnny Mantz in 1950|
Johnny Mantz won the inaugural Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 4, 1950. Curtis Turner won the pole and led the first 22 laps before flipping and finishing 60th. Mantz took the lead from Cotton Owens on lap 298 (of 400) and led to the finish. Just two cautions slowed the event, as drivers raced past a veritable elephant’s graveyard of broken-down machinery on the apron of the speedway. Mantz’ margin of victory was more than nine laps
The race took a staggering six hours, thirty-eight minutes, and forty seconds to complete at an average speed of 75.250 miles per hour. A crowd of approximately 30,000 fans sweated out the event in temperatures that reached the low 90s.
Fireball Roberts finished second to Mantz that day, followed by inaugural NASCAR premier series champion Red Byron, Bill Rexford and Chuck Mahoney. Lee Petty, Owens, Bill Blair, Hershel McGriff and George Hartley completed the Top-10.
A total of 11 manufacturers were represented in the first Southern 500 field; Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Mercury, Ford, Buick, Pontiac, Nash, Lincoln, Studebaker and Kaiser. No Chevrolets took part in the race.
|ABC's Jim McKay|
In that 1950 race, cars competed on regular pump gasoline, which sold for 18 cents a gallon. Cars were driven to the track, and those who survived the 400-lap grind were driven home again.
A total of 75 cars took the green flag in the 1950 event. The final purse-paying position was 72nd, with Alton Haddock pocketing a cool $100. Jack Yardley, Jack Carr and Roscoe Thompson were the final three finishers, earning none of the $25,325 in total posted winnings.
That $25,325 purse equates to $248,241.04 in 2014 dollars.
The race was first televised in 1965, with ABC “Wide World of Sports” anchorman Jim McKay handling the play-by-play on a highlight-based TV package. McKay manned the microphone again in 1966, with Chris Economaki and recently-retired driver Fred Lorenzen doing the honors in `67.
In 1965, Ned Jarrett won the Southern 500 by a whopping 14 laps.
In the 1970 Southern 500, Richard Petty hit the outside wall at the exit of Turn 4, then careened into the inside pit wall. His car overturned multiple times, with Petty’s head and left arm hanging out the window opening. He suffered serious injuries that played a major role in NASCAR mandating the use of window nets.
|Craven (32) and Busch battled in 2012|
In the 1979 race, a miscommunication caused David Pearson to leave pit road with loose left-side tires. Those loose wheels promptly fell off, ending his race. One week later, Pearson and the legendary Wood Brothers Racing Team parted company, after winning 43 races together between 1972 and 1978.
In 2003, Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch staged the most memorable finish in Southern 500 history, swapping the lead – and considerable sheet metal -- multiple times in the final laps, Craven edged Busch by a margin of 0.002 seconds (approximately two inches); a finish that remains the closest since NASCAR implemented electronic scoring.
Two years ago, in 2012, Jimmie Johnson stayed on-track during the final round of pit stops and held off Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart to win the Southern 500; the 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory for team owner Rick Hendrick.