Thursday, August 29, 2013

Checkered Past: NASCAR’s American holiday tradition goes north of the border


Denny Hamlin wins at Atlanta in 2012.
Credit: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images  

For many years, two of America’s biggest national holidays have been associated with auto racing. Memorial Day, the start of summer, sees action at two racing meccas, Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the IZOD IndyCar Series and Charlotte Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

The summer ends with Labor Day when the epic five-day U.S. Nationals for the NHRA invades Indy’s Lucas Oil Raceway. NASCAR is part of that Labor Day party as well, visiting Atlanta Motor Speedway for Sunday night action – but the action hasn’t always taken place in Georgia.

The original NASCAR Labor Day race was the historic Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Harold Brasington built the track in the late 1940s and cut a deal with Bill France Sr., whom Brasington raced against in NASCAR’s early days, to host a 500-mile Labor Day event in 1950 at his new South Carolina track. Co-sanctioned by NASCAR and the Central States Racing Association, more than 80 drivers entered the race, pursuing their share of the $25,000 purse. In two moves inspired by the Indy 500, Brasington used a two-week qualifying period and lined the qualified cars up three wide to start the race – all 75 of them. The inaugural Southern 500 was won by Johnny Mantz. It was only his third NASCAR race and his only NASCAR win.

In spite of the prestige of the Southern 500 and its Labor Day scheduling, the race was moved to the 10-race Chase for the Cup in 2004, and eliminated in name in 2005, when Darlington lost one of its two races. After four years, the Southern 500 returned to the schedule in name, with the race now held the Saturday night before Mother’s Day in May. The Labor Day race moved to California (now Auto Club) Speedway in 2004, remaining there through the 2008 season, after which the Labor Day date moved back to the south and Atlanta Motor Speedway.




In 2013, NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series will be racing in a new frontier on Labor Day weekend. The NCWTS heads north of the border to celebrate “Labour Day” at Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada’s Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, a 2.459-mile road course co-owned by road course ringer Ron Fellows. The race marks the series’ first race in Canada as well as its first road course race since 2000.

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