Darlington Raceway: Then and Now (PHOTOS)

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Driving a Plymouth, Johnny Mantz won the inaugural Southern 500 for his only NASCAR victory in 12 starts. That day in 1950, 75 cars would start the race. Now the fields of Sprint Cup races are filled by a modest total of 43 cars.

The track has hosted 111 Sprint Cup races since 1950, with two being held each year from 1960 to 2004. Of the 13 tracks that were visited in the 1950 season for 19 races, Darlington is one of two NASCAR still visits, with the other being Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. The series still raced on the beaches of Daytona and at a track that predated Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Here’s a snapshot of Darlington and the sport it plays host to.

 

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An aerial shot of Darlington from its early days.
(Courtesy of Darlington Historical Commission)

 

source: Getty Images
A shot down the front stretch of Darlington Speedway in 1971, with an overhang covering the grandstand. (Photo by ISC Archives via Getty Images)

 

NASCAR Testing - Darlington
How the grandstand looks at Darlington in 2015. The overhang is gone and a modern scoring tower tops it, adorned by the track’s “Too Tough to Tame” slogan. In 1971, about 70,000 fans attended the Southern 500. In 2015, the permanent seating capacity is 58,000.
Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images

 

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Crew members work on the No. 66 of Dick Brooks in the Darlington garage area.
(Courtesy of Darlington Historical Commission)

 

Bojangles' Southern 500
Forty years later, the facilities are nicer and the cars are far less “stock,” but NASCAR teams still work out in the open under the watchful eyes of curious fans.
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

 

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Richard Petty flies by the scoring table just inside a turn in Darlington’s infield in 1970.
Courtesy: Courtesy of Darlington Historical Commission

 

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The No. 98 spins out during one of the 1973 races at Darlington. Notice the exit of the turn. Instead of today’s tall catchfences that line all speedways, the only thing keeping drivers and their speeding cars from leaving the track were short walls of concrete or metal.
(Courtesy of Darlington Historical Commission)

 

Bojangles' Southern 500
Aric Almirola spins during the 2014 Bojangles’ Southern 500 in front of a painted wall with SAFER barrier and a modern catchfence.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

 

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Bobby Allison finishes a qualifying run for the 1972 Rebel 400. Allison, a five-time winner at Darlington, qualified second.
(Courtesy of Darlington Historical Commission)

 

Bojangles' Southern 500
Kevin Harvick takes the checkered flag to win the 2014 Bojangles’ Southern 500. Now the flag stand is much higher off the track surface and beginning in 2015, the flag person must wear a helmet for protection from flying debris.Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images