| Southern 500|
| September 7, 1953 (1953-September-07)|
Darlington Raceway, Darlington, South Carolina
Permanent racing facility
1.250 mi (2.011 km)
364 laps, 500.0 mi (804.6 km)
Warm with temperatures reaching up to 82.9 °F (28.3 °C); wind speeds up to 8.9 miles per hour (14.3 km/h)
The 1953 Southern 500, the fourth running of the event, was a NASCAR Grand National Series event that was held on September 7, 1953, at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina.
Junior Johnson would make his NASCAR Cup Series debut as a driver in this event; amongst a laundry list of other rookie drivers. Bob Weatherly, Lonnie Bragg, and Elmer Cooper would race their only NASCAR event here along with several other "one-race wonders." Just months prior to the 1953 running of the Southern 500, the shape of the track forced vehicles to drive slowly at all time and passing opportunities were very few. A reconstruction effect helped to mold the racetrack into a fast venue for stock car racing prior to the completion of Daytona International Speedway.
1953 Southern 500 Wikipedia
Darlington Raceway, nicknamed by many NASCAR fans and drivers as "The Lady in Black" or "The Track Too Tough to Tame" and advertised as a "NASCAR Tradition", is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is of a unique, somewhat egg-shaped design, an oval with the ends of very different configurations, a condition which supposedly arose from the proximity of one end of the track to a minnow pond the owner refused to relocate. This situation makes it very challenging for the crews to set up their cars' handling in a way that will be effective at both ends.
The track is a four-turn 1.366 miles (2.198 km) oval. The track's first two turns are banked at twenty-five degrees, while the final two turns are banked two degrees lower at twenty-three degrees. The front stretch (the location of the finish line) and the back stretch is banked at six degrees. Darlington Raceway can seat up to 60,000 people.
A grand total of 59 American born drivers competed in this 364-lap racing event. More than 30 lead changes would occur in this event; an unprecedented activity in the formative years of NASCAR when the stock car were still relatively slow and drivers were not as aggressive as they would become in the 1970s and the 1980s. Instead of being measured by the apron, the races started to be measured by the banking. The races started to become longer following this event and would ultimately attract more people into becoming NASCAR followers.
Dick Meyer - a native of Porterville, California - would die while street racing back in California just several days after competing in this event. Porterville would eventually bring forth two more of its native sons to compete in NASCAR; 1973 Talladega 500 winner Dick Brooks and NASCAR legend Marv Acton. Today, Acton is still involved in the stock car world, building NASCAR simulators and owning a shop dedicated to the fabrication of stock car vehicles. Ned Jarrett was destined to be the last-place finisher due to a faulty oil line on lap 8 while Bob Hunter was the lowest-finishing driver to survive the race; albeit 154 laps behind the lead lap drivers. After more than five hours of near-continuous racing, Buck Baker would go on to defeat Fonty Flock by a distance of at least three laps.
Flock was the brave pole sitter who amazed the other drivers by driving up to 107.983 miles per hour (173.782 km/h) during the mandatory solo qualifying runs. In contrast to that incredible speed, the average speed of the actual racing event was a meager 92.881 miles per hour (149.477 km/h). Seventeen laps in this event were run at reduced speeds as a result of the yellow caution flag. Some of the notable owners in this race were Herb Thomas, Frank Christian and Bob Griffin. More than half the grid failed to finish the race; even mighty Herb Thomas himself had stock car engine problems on lap 354 that ultimately nailed him at a respectable fifth-place finish. Five drivers were declared to be "null" entries by NASCAR because they didn't submit their entry blanks within a reasonable period of time. While they were still permitted to race, their finishes did not count towards the overall season standings.
Individual race earnings for this event ranged from the winner's share of $6,285 ($56,260.13 when adjusted for inflation) to the last-place finisher's portion of $100 ($895.15 when adjusted for inflation). NASCAR officials were allowed to hand out a total sum of $24,430 to all the competitors who qualified for this racing event ($218,684.96 when adjusted for inflation).