November 14th is the day that the final Southern 500 was held at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina. Darlington Raceway was the South's first track over one mile in length.
While events such as the Daytona 500 became NASCAR's biggest draws, the Southern 500 remained its most traditional race. The first Southern 500 was held in 1950. Seventy-three cars were entered in the inaugural Southern 500; thirty more than participate weekly on the Nextel Cup circuit today.
Johnny Mantz, who qualified last for the race, became the Southern 500's first winner and a tradition was launched. In 1952, Fonty Flock won the Southern 500 while driving in Bermuda shorts, something that would be unheard of today due to safety regulations. After the race Flock led the Southern 500 crowd in a rendition of "Dixie." Sadly times have changed since 1952, and if one of today's young guns had won the Southern 500 they would likely have chosen something off of the Billboard Top 40 charts to perform.
Many of NASCAR's legends were on hand for the final Southern 500 like Junior Johnson, Rex White, and Cale Yarborough. Ten time Darlington winner David Pearson intentionally stayed away from the final Southern 500 because he feels, like many others, that NASCAR and the International Speedway Corporation or ISC killed the event's allure.
After the 2003 Southern 500, in which veteran driver Terry Labonte won, NASCAR decided to move the race from it's traditional Labor Day weekend in September to the second to last race of the season in November. NASCAR decided that California Speedway would be more profitable for the Labor Day weekend race.
This season NASCAR decided to do away with the Southern 500 altogether so that the bigger capacity Texas Motor Speedway could have a second race date in 2005. NASCAR, a multi-billion dollar industry, has opted for more cash over tradition and history, the same tradition and history that made it a billion dollar industry to begin with.
NASCAR star Jeff Gordon, a five time Southern 500 winner says, "I don't understand why, even if they move the date, that this can't be the Southern 500. I think if they have one race here, it ought to be called the Southern 500. But I'm glad we still have one race here next year. I like racing here. It's been a good track for me."
The final Southern 500 was held on a cold, South Carolina afternoon. Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon dominated portions of the race, but as the final Southern 500 ended with Jimmie Johnson the victor, due to bad final pit stops by Martin and Gordon, the newly installed light system (for next years Carolina Dodge Dealers 500 on the Saturday night before Mother's Day) had been turned on and the sun had officially set on NASCAR tradition.