Motorsport News

Throwback Darlington Has Evolved From Crusty to Spectacular

Waid's World Graphic

There was a time when Darlington Raceway, the notorious “Lady in Black,” was more like “The Old Lady Wheezing on Her Death Bed.”

Given that the track is hale and hearty today, and still plays host to the Goodyear 400 with its popular “Throwback” theme and the legendary Southern 500 in front of thousands of enthusiastic fans, that seems hard to believe.

But it is true. From the year it was built, 1950, through the next two decades very few improvements were made to the track’s facilities and amenities. That was largely due to the “thriftiness” of upper management. I’m being polite here.

I started covering Darlington races in 1975 when I was a sportswriter in Roanoke. The speedway had long since acquired the reputation as the toughest in NASCAR and a track on which every driver wanted to win. 

 But year after year Darlington remained the same. Same grandstands, same garage area, same press box. The grass may have been cut but it didn’t look like it. The concrete walls were so soft you could dig a hole in them with a simple screwdriver. Didn’t appear anyone had ever used a paint brush, either.

I was one member of the media who called the track “crusty old Darlington” just to be nice.

No one outwardly blamed anyone for this condition but was widely speculated that management’s unwillingness to spend money was at the root of it.

Darlington’s president was Barney Wallace who, it can fairly be said, was a totally colorless man. It was also said that he didn’t care to spend a dime unless it was absolutely necessary.

Wallace’s right-hand man, “Red” Tyler, was his complete opposite. Tyler was friendly, outgoing, blessed with a sense of humor and a deep Southern drawl. As much as Wallace avoided the media, Tyler courted it.

Tyler knew exactly what was happening to Darlington. And he knew why.

“I remember one time, a driver on a low budget went to Barney after a race,” Tyler recalled. “He wanted some money to help him get home. He said, ‘Barney, can you help me get home?’

“Barney took out a map and said, ‘Sure, you just take a right on Highway 52 and ….’”

At one race I was with Tyler in the infield. We entered the cafeteria and he stopped. He looked at a big tear in the cafeteria’s screen door. I knew it had been there for years.

Tyler spoke into his two-way radio. “Barney, we got to fix this tear in the screen door,” he said. “The flies are…

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