The 1973 Southern 500, the 24th running of the event, was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing event held on September 3, 1973, at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina. This race would highlight the relative lack of safety involved when an engine-related oil spill caused four cars to spin out on the track before a caution flag settled things back down to normal.
Bud Moore would ultimately leave the NASCAR Cup Series as a driver after the conclusion of this event. Only manual transmission vehicles were allowed to participate in this race; a policy that NASCAR has retained to the present day.
Jackie Cooper was named honorary race marshal for the 1973 Southern 500.
Jim Vandiver, who was dealing with a child custody case with his first wife, was to appear in a Greenville, South Carolina court on Friday, August 31 for a hearing. He was assured by his lawyer that appearing would not be necessary because he was expected in Darlington. The judge at the hearing did not consider this grounds for absence, and found Vandiver in contempt of court. An arrest warrant was issued.
Pole position for the Southern 500 was taken by David Pearson, of Wood Brothers Racing.
Neil Castles, who qualified 38th in a Dodge, withdrew before the race. First alternate Mel Larson took his place, 40th on the grid.
Two Greenville County sheriff's deputies arrived at Darlington on race day. In Darlington Raceway president Barney Wallace's office, they informed him of their intent to arrest Vandiver on the contempt charge. Wallace convinced them to make their arrest after the race. Neil Castles had been in Wallace's office at the time, overheard this conversation, and informed Vandiver before the race.
Early in the race, Roy Mayne relieved Jabe Thomas in his car. NASCAR points structure meant that Thomas would receive the points for Mayne's finish. Other drivers took advantage of a relief driver, in part because of the very hot day. Richard Petty was one of these.
40 drivers competed in this race; only one foreigner competed - Canadian-born Vic Parsons. This event took three hours and forty-four minutes to complete 367 laps. Richard Childress was credited as the last-place finisher due to a problem with his stock car engine on lap 19. Frank Warren was the lowest-finishing driver to complete the event while being nearly 100 laps behind the lead lap cars.
Jim Vandiver, who was already nursing a problematic engine, would deliberately spin his car on lap 223, on Darlington's back stretch. This caused a caution, and in a break in race traffic, Vandiver jumped the back fence and left raceway property. From there, he hitchhiked home to Monroe, North Carolina, and thus avoided arrest on race day.
Joe Frasson's problematic engine on lap 304 would force him to finish in the middle of the pack.
Cale Yarborough defeated David Pearson under caution in front of the collective eyes of 70,000 loyal NASCAR followers. Ironically, Pearson would qualify for the pole position by driving speeds up to 150.366 miles per hour (241.991 km/h) during the solo qualifying sessions. Average race speeds would end up being 134.033 miles per hour (215.705 km/h) due to the seven yellow flags that NASCAR officials handed out for a duration of 37 laps. Chevrolet and Ford were the dominant manufacturers at this racing event. Richard D. Brown suddenly quit this race on lap 30 for no apparent reason.
Individual race earnings for each driver ranged from the winner's portion of $23,140 ($124,841.51 when adjusted for inflation) to the last-place finisher's portion of $1,700 ($9,171.59 when adjusted for inflation). NASCAR officials authorized a total amount of $126,725 to be handed out to every qualifying driver on the conclusion of this event ($683,688.02 when adjusted for inflation).
* Driver failed to finish race