Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Traditionally speaking, Darlington is doing just fine these days

Woody Allen once said, “Tradition is the illusion of permanence.”

That’s certainly true as to how many NASCAR fans feel about racing anywhere else but Darlington, S.C., on Labor Day weekend.

Almost seven years removed from the last Southern 500 at Darlington in 2003, fans still cringe when reminded NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series is running 500 miles this weekend somewhere else.

Why is that?

It certainly can’t be because the Cup race was so much more successful on Labor Day weekend than its current date on Mother’s Day weekend. Darlington has never had bigger crowds since it moved to a Saturday night race in May.

It can’t be because of weather. While races in March and even the one tried in November didn’t exactly bring out the best from Mother Nature, if one thing was constant about the Labor Day weekend race is was the weather – hot and humid.

I saw many a driver crawl gingerly out of their cars after 500 miles in the baking sun at Darlington. Surely, running on a Saturday night in May has to be better conditions.

It can’t be because it’s gotten any easier to win the Southern 500. In the past five years, the 500 has been won by some of the best the Cup series has to offer –Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin.

So what is it? Why after seven years does it still smart for many in NASCAR to travel someplace other than Darlington on Labor Day weekend?

Maybe it’s just because that’s what so many people did in this sport for more than 50 years. It was comfortable. It was close to home for many. It’s just the way they always did it.

That’s doesn’t mean it should always be that way.

It may well be an awesome tradition to play baseball in the cozy confines of a 10,000-seat stadium but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do in 2010.

In all reality, tradition does indeed provide an illusion of permanence. After doing something the same way for so long, it seems wrong to do it any other way.

Yet sometimes – not always – the new way is the better way.


  1. As I said on the other copy of this story, there are other "traditions" in NASCAR that need to be done away with more than the Southern 500 at Darlington on Labor Day weekend.

    Pocono immediately leaps to mind. It's tradition to hold two 500-mile races 6 weeks apart. The racing there is so boring it is painful to watch - and I often end up watching the inside of my eyelids. How about one 400-mile race there? Call it a mercy killing.

    Darlington has lights now, so you could start the Southern 500 at 5:00 or 5:30 and the physical pounding the drives take would be lightened a little.

    And while change is OK if "this is the way it's always been done" is the only argument against the change, change for the sake of change isn't any better. How'd those Labor Day races in California work out?

    So I'd like to see the Southern 500 at Darlington on Sunday of Labor Day weekend again. Just start it later to ease the beating the drivers take.

  2. J is wrong on many levels.

    1 - Pocono is vastly superior to most tracks in layout, competitive depth, and demographics. 500 miles is a far better test of machinery and driving than 400 miles anywhere. This was proven anew by the uncompetitive Brickyard 400 and a hard-fought Summer 500 at Pocono.
    2 - Darlington, lights or no lights, is a relic, an outdated oval with no room to race and nothing in the way of competitive racing. The Southern 500 was a forgettable race for the last 22 years it ran at Darlington.
    3 - J contradicts himself when he demands Pocono be shortened while giving Darlington (a more stressful track) kid gloves treatment by simply recommending the race run at night.

    The objective reality is Pocono is a better race than Darlington.