A weekend without a race? And they call it a holiday?!
Hi all! This is Melissa. Once a week, I’ll be bringing you a little bit of NASCAR history. Nice to meet you! If you have a question or want to know more about a piece of racing history, let me know. I’ll do my best to dig up an answer or a story out from under the asphalt or dirt it might be hiding under. M.
As we take a break from racing for the Easter weekend, how about we peek back into NASCAR’s history and the way holidays fit into the schedule. Our modern stock car racing season is marked by Valentine’s Day in February (talk about true love!) and ends just before Thanksgiving. We all know of course that until recently, NASCAR has had an unofficial policy of not racing on Mother’s Day. The Fourth of July takes a place during race season and serves to mark summer, stock car racing and the birth of a great nation all in one.
But what of Labor Day? Well, it turns out that there wasn’t all that much to celebrate before Harold Brasington and Bill France made a successful race out a true anomaly in the stock car racing world: a 500 mile race at a 1.25 (now 1.366) mile long paved race track.
Darlington Raceway hosted the first Southern 500 on Labor Day Monday September 4th, 1950. The Blue Laws of South Carolina prevented them from holding the race on the Sunday of the holiday weekend, so it seemed like it was a perfect match! At the first Southern 500, local highways were jammed. We’ve all been in race traffic, so you can use your imagination. Harold Brasington expected 10,000 people to come for his track’s first race, and nearly 25,000 folks showed up!
People even showed up a day early, so officials decided to open up the track gates the night before the actual race. Local Jaycees who set up all night hot dog stands fed the race fans. The first fan friendly, camping over night infield was an impromptu camp out. Track officials asked the campers to return outside the gate in the morning to buy their race tickets, and they did. Bill France himself was impressed by how many people turned out for the race on the holiday. Truly, until the Southern 500, Labor Day was something of an uncelebrated holiday in the South. Politics and differing views on the Unions made Labor Day something of a Northern holiday. And yes, it is of course, a lovely three day weekend.
These days, the Labor Day race date has been adopted by Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Lady in Black hosts the Mother’s Day race. But race fans from all across the United States know why Labor Day is important! That’s right! The Southern 500! We miss that race and maybe it will end up back where it belongs. Enjoy your Easter weekend. Remember that just because there isn’t a NASCAR race, doesn’t mean there isn’t racing! Find your local track and go watch some local heroes fight it out. You know you’ll enjoy it more than watching your cousins fight over the last hidden egg.
Editor’s Note: I see you all have met NASCAR Ranting and Raving’s newest scribe, Melissa. I found out about Melissa purly by accident last summer when I was looking up some historical facts about NASCAR on Twitter of all places. I wanted to see just how good that particular form of social media was and wouldn’t you know I found Melissa (aka TrackGirl) and I have been following her ever since. I’ve always been interested in NASCAR’s historical past, and thought it would be kind of cool to have someone of Melissa’s background writing a historical column at NASCAR RnR. A few emails later and Melissa has found a new place to share her love of NASCAR racing and history. For more information about Melissa check out her impressive Bio. and then head down to the comments section and give her a proper NASCAR Ranting and Raving welcome!
Glad to have you on board TrackGirl!
– Bob (aka 4ever3)