On March 16-18, 2001, the Winged Warriors/NBOA held a Spring meet in conjunction with Darlington Raceway's NASCAR race. Conway, SC served as our headquarters for the event. On Friday afternoon, while several of the members headed for Myrtle Beach to soak up some sun, another large group of our cars traveled to Murrells Inlet to visit Brookgreen Gardens.
Brookgreen Gardens is situated on an 300 acre estate (formerly four rice plantations) that was owned and restored by a married couple-he was a poet, she sculptured. We walked for miles around the grounds where more than 550 marble and brass sculptures are displayed: huge fighting horses in the middle of a pond, tigers guarding the garden entrance where 100 year old live Oaks stand dripping with moss, a walk-through gallery of squirrels, pigs, hounds and horses displayed around a reflecting pond and flower gardens just beginning to bloom. There was also a cypress swamp, aviary and wildlife park where alligators were lounging in the sun. It was a perfectly beautiful day in the high 70s and all of the flowering trees were in full bloom. Those of us from the northern states appreciated the break from winter. That evening, everyone gathered in the hospitality room to visit and buy event T-shirts provided by Mike Svec. The room was well stocked with snack food, fresh fruit and drinks provided by Dr. Granville Vance. We also gave away some door prizes. Many thanks to Terry and Karen Roelofs, Harry Rupe of the Union Pacific Railroad and Dr. Vance for adding to the club giveaways.
Saturday morning everyone headed out early for our car show ar the NASCAR Cafe in Myrtle Beach. We had choice parking spots across the front of the building facing the highway, which generated a lot of commotion. Those driving by would see all of the gaudy colored Mopars on display and whip in the restaurant to check them out. The NASCAR Cafe was an experience in itself.
Race car dummies hang from the ceiling. There is a gallery, surrounding the restaurant seating area, that is lined with driver stories, autographed photos, displays of uniforms, equipment, awards, etc. The waiter/waitress greets you with "Hello, my name is (whatever) and I will be your crew chief today. What kind of fuel can I get for you?" When the food comes, there is a checkered flag toothpick stuck in it. There were big screen TVs situated all around the restaurant so we were able to watch the Busch race happenings while lunching. It was all wonderfully tacky, the food was excellent, and everyone very much enjoyed it. Several members spent the morning racing go-karts at one of the many race tracks behind the restaurant.
One of the interesting cars that showed up at the NASCAR Cafe was Tres Wilson's 1970 Challenger R/T which was awarded to Bobby Isaac at Texas World Speedway. Tres has spoken with Bobby's son, who verified that it was indeed his father's car which he drove for several years after Bobby passed it along to him. It is a strikingly beautiful car with a very healthy history!
We were also honored to have five lovely beauty queens to mingle with the members and pose with the cars. A big THANKS goes to: Nealy Cook-Miss Florence Speedway; Brooke Elvis-Miss Horry County; April Mills-Miss Myrtle Beach Speedway; Amber Onufer-Miss Pawleys Island; and Stephanie Richardson-Miss Midstate Carolina for taking time out of their busy schedules to join us at the NASCAR Cafe.
Our next stop was at the Ripley's Aquarium across the street from the NASCAR Cafe. Inside of this huge building, there was every kind of aquatic exhibit imaginable from coral reefs and sea horses to stingrays and horseshoe crabs, several interactive displays and films. The highlight of the attraction was the undersea aquarium which is a huge acrylic tunnel that you ride a conveyor through and there is every kind of sea life swimming all around and over you. It's an incredible experience-like deep sea diving without getting wet! Upon returning to our headquarters hotel, everyone loaded up their cars and retired early in preparation for our early departure in the morning.
Sunday morning, our long line of Mopars convoyed the 55 miles to Darlington Raceway. Dr. Granville Vance arranged for a dual-motorcycle police escort to pick us up at the junction of 501 and 52 and lead us into the track gate. At the gate, a track van took us to our special fenced in parking area. We were located just past the free general parking area, so all of the general public that attended the race had to walk right past our cars to get to the grandstands. By 10:30 AM, when we got lined up to drive our route to the track, thousands of fans had already walked through and checked out every car! We even spotted a couple of the Dodge City personnel walking around looking at the cars. We had fifteen SuperBirds, thirteen Daytonas, one 1970 GTX, one 1971 Road Runner and two 1969 Charger 500s on display....quite a sight!
During this time, most of the members wandered through the vendor trailers, bought souvenirs and visited the museum on the other side of the track. The museum is small, but packed with racing history. Some of the cars on display are Johnny Mantz's 1950 Plymouth which won the first race at Darlington, Buddy Baker's #6 Daytona and Richard Petty's 1967 Belvedere, along with numerous Fords, Mercs and Chevys that have won there. The walls are lined with old photos and racing artwork, Buck Baker's Hemi engine is on a stand in one corner and several glass display cases are jammed with old driver's helmets, newspaper clippings, photos, track programs, trophies, etc. One room is full of individual driver tributes with a professional pencil drawing of each man, a recorded message giving highlights of his career and his racing uniform.
At 10:30 AM, the track van returned to our parking area to lead us through the RV parking area, up the tunnel road, under the Pearson Tower, around the outside of turns #3 & #4, out onto the street which the local police had blocked off for us, and back into the track near turn #2. All along this route, great walls of people were standing with amazed looks on their faces; most were scurrying to get a good photo or some video footage and from the many comments we heard, almost all of these spectators knew what these cars were. We all agreed that the lengthy drive to and from the track through all of the fans was the best part of the whole experience. Once on the track, we parked on the apron. Everyone hopped out of their cars and a lot of film was used up during this time. About an hour later, we made a parade lap around "The Lady In Black" and were led back through the hoards of fans to our parking area.
The whole operation was handled with an extreme amount of precision and organization and a very big THANK YOU goes out to the Darlington officials. All of the Darlington folks we dealt with were more than accommodating, friendly and welcomed us with open arms. We couldn't have asked for more. A special THANKS goes out to track manager Mac Josey, Marketing Director Matt Becherer and the Judge for all of their help and attention to detail.
After the parade lap, everyone climbed and climbed and climbed (whew!) to get to our seats in the upper section of the Pearson Tower. From here, we could see the complete track, all of the pit area, and we were also positioned right above turn #4 where a lot of cars seemed to scrape the wall. The two Dodge sponsored drivers, Elliott and Atwood, seemed to fall further behind with each passing minute. Sterling Marlin held onto a respectable 3rd position for most of the day until dropping back to finish in 5th place.
Huntington, NY member Ron Sachs paid almost $1,500 to have his Daytona shipped to Conway so he could attend this event. Now that's devotion! The Hard Luck honors for this event have to go to Karen and Terry Roelofs of Moline, MI. The transmission in their Dodge Ram gave up in the mountains on the way to Conway and they had to leave their Hemi Daytona and trailer with host Ray Williams until the tranny was fixed. But all was not lost.....Terry had the truck's transmission fixed, drove back to Conway to retrieve his Hemi Daytona and drove to Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte where the Daytona was put on display at their AutoFest Event!
John Pappas of Five-Star Productions was with us for most of the weekend getting some great video of the cars at the hotel, NASCAR Cafe and on the parade lap at Darlington. There's even a tribute to Dale Earnhardt and a segment from inside the race car simulator at the NASCAR Cafe! If you want to see 70 minutes from this great event, order video #1184 - 2001 Winged Car Reunion At Darlington, from: Five Star Productions, 31230 Lahser Rd, Beverly Hills, MI 48025 or call (248) 646-6391. For more info send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Winged Warriors/NBOA members would like to extend a very big THANK YOU to: meet host Ray Williams, who threw this incredible event together for us in just a few months time, and arranged for the beauty queens to be at the Cafe; Dr. Granville Vance, who arranged the police escort and provided food for the hospitality room; Mac Josey and all of the folks at Darlington who welcomed us in and treated us like royalty; the South Carolina Highway Patrol for their much needed escorts and traffic blocks; and Mike Svec for once again providing the great event T-shirts.
We plan on holding another Darlington Spring meet in March, 2003, so if any of you non-member winged car or B-Body owners are interested in joining us, you can contact club headquarters at WW/NBOA, 216-12th Street, Boone, IA 50036 or at email@example.com for membership information.
On January 13, 1950, the first dirt was removed to build the Darlington Raceway. The track was 1.25 miles in length (egg-shaped) with a 25' bank, turns were 90' wide and 14' high. At that time, there were 10,000 seats in the concrete bleachers. On September 4th of that same year, the first Southern 500 was run. 75 cars entered and 25,000 fans watched. The purse was $25,500, the highest ever for a stock car event and the race was won by Johnny Mantz of California in a 1950 Plymouth.
In 1953, the Darlington track was extended to 1.375 miles in length. Turns #1 and #2 were completely rebuilt and banked at 26' (23 degrees), and the turn was raised 5 1/2' in elevation to increase speeds. In 1954, seats were added to the old front stretch grandstand, now known as the Colvin Stand. Several rows of the seats were covered. The following year marked the Darlington Raceway's first complete sell-out with 50,000 tickets sold.
In 1956, a new 15,000 seat grandstand was built on the backstretch and a tunnel was built under turns #3 and #4. At this time, the pits were on both sides of the track with no pit wall. Pit stops were not allowed under the yellow flag.
On May 12, 1957, the first NASCAR Grand National Rebel 300 spring race was run for NASCAR convertibles. The race was rained out on Saturday and, since South Carolina's Blue Law prohibited sporting events on Sundays, raceway president Bob Colvin paid a $50 fine for running the race the following day. Fireball Roberts won the race. Some new rules allowed drivers to refuel during cautions and use ten gallon gas cans; all mechanics were now required to wear shirts.
In 1959, the Colvin Grandstand was completely covered. "Thunder In Carolina" was filmed with Rory Calhoun and Alan Hale.
A two-part Rebel 500 was contested in the Spring of 1960. The first 74 laps were run on May 7th, but rain forced it to be completed a week later on May 14th. There was some bad luck this year, first when Johnny Allen plowed into a scoring stand and part of it fell down into the Rebel race, and later when Bobby Johns ran into an unprotected pit area killing mechanics Pat McDuffie and Charles Sweatlund as well as NASCAR official Joe Taylor. This was also the year the first Unocal/Darlington Record Club dinner was held. Membership was awarded to the fastest driver of each make of car that qualified for the starting field, providing each was within 2% of the top qualifying speed. Charter members were Elmo Langley, Bob Burdick, Joe Caspolich, Marvin Panch, Richard Petty, Fireball Roberts and Dick Joslin.
1962 marked the end of the convertible races, with the Rebel 300 won by Nelson Stacy. Also this year, after Junior Johnson was thought to be the winner of the Southern 500, a scoring re-check declared that Larry Frank was actually the winner.
In 1965 the Darlington Raceway began building upper box seats on the second turn end. The Rebel race became a 400-mile event in 1966. In 1967 Richard Petty recorded his 55th win, pushing him past his retired father Lee in all-time victories.
David Pearson of Spartanburg, SC, won his first race at Darlington with the Rebel 400 in 1968. After the Southern 500 race that year, turns #3 and #4 were re-worked for the next year's events, with $175,000 being spent to re-bank and completely asphalt the track. The new banking is now at 25 degrees in turns #3 and #4.
More improvements were made in 1970, with the old guard rail along turns #1 and #2 being replaced with a concrete wall. This is also the year that Richard Petty flipped four times on the front stretch in the Rebel 400.
In 1973 the garage was completely rebuilt and new Goodyear, Unocal and Cafeteria buildings were constructed. With the energy crisis in 1974, the Rebel race was shortened to 450 miles. The upper box seats were completed on the old backstretch.
In 1978 the Darlington track was completely re-paved at a cost of $250,000. In 1983, more than half a million dollars was spent on concrete walls, fencing, new chair seats, rest rooms and concession stands, NASCAR and MRN control towers, a new press office and an infield press room. The following year, Darlington became the first track to get huge scoreboards on each end of the track. A new garage area was built and the NASCAR control tower was moved to the top of the Colvin Grandstand (on top of the cover). 1984 also marked the final Daytona Dash Series race and the last Southern 500 actually held on Labor Day (Monday).
In 1989, after the running of the Southern 500, Hurricane Hugo destroyed some of the Colvin Grandstand roof, and the decision was made to completely remove it and the box seats.
Harold Brasington, founder of the Darlington Raceway, was inducted into the NMPA Stock Car Hall of Fame in 1992.
In 1994 the Tyler Tower opened and the first phase of a re-construction at Darlington took place. At this time all four grandstands were named after track presidents - the covered Brasington Grandstand and the Colvin, Wallace and Tyler Towers. Just days before the opening of the Tyler Tower, its namesake, Red Tyler, passed away. The following year nearly 5,000 tons of asphalt were put down 64 feet from the outside retaining wall.
In 1997 the "new" Darlington was christened. Because the track owned property on the back side of the track, the decision was made to switch the start/finish line to the opposite side of the track, making the old turn #3 into the new turn #1, the old turn #4 into the new turn #2, the old turn #1 into the new turn #3 and the old turn #2 into the new turn #4. Now, if you have all of that straight, note this: the actual track surface was never disturbed - all of the asphalt and walls are the same!
The Pearson Tower, named for all-time Darlington winner David Pearson, was constructed in 1997 also. It towers over turns #3 and #4 and has 12,300 seats. This is where the Winged Warriors/NBOA members sat during the race.
While traveling to and from the Darlington area, we were able to visit a number of other attractions, including the Lowes Motor Speedway Museum and the Evernham, Ganassi and Hendricks race shops.
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