Thursday, May 7, 2009

Puttin' the Southern Back in the 500

Thank goodness tradition counts for something somewhere. For a sport that's often slicked up, sometimes toned down and always cleverly marketed to the masses, NASCAR still does a remarkable job of recognizing the people, places and traditions that have made the sport what it is today.

There are so many folks with fond memories of Darlington and its Southern 500 -- from the Boy Scout troops near Florence who used to get free tickets to the race every Labor Day weekend, to the '60s farm kids in the Midlands who made the trek each year to see the likes of Fireball Roberts and Cale Yarborough race their hearts out.

For a Florida girl like me, merely the name "Southern 500" unlocks Polaroid memories from years gone by. My Dad's politically incorrect Confederate Flag beach towel wafting from the back of a vinyl lounge chair. Uncle J's "racy" stories of camping out with his buddies in a beat-up fifth wheel at Speedweeks. My Uncle E's anecdotes of the days he was a small-time racer on the tracks of Hollywood, Florida. The sounds of Waylon Jennings. The taste of fried okra. The haze of red dust on a dirt road.

In short, whether you were an eyewitness to Darlington's history or not, there's something about merely the name of this racing tradition that makes fans feel a little bit nostalgic, a little bit proud and a whole lot of happy.

Sure there will still be races at tracks in Las Vegas, New Hampshire and Fontana. But for this weekend at least, the South's gonna do it again.

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