Darlington Record Club
The Unocal-Darlington Record Club was a club in the NASCAR Grand National and Winston Cup Series from 1959 to about 2001, based at Darlington Raceway. Membership was achieved based on setting qualifying records during time trials for the annual (Heinz/Mountain Dew) Southern 500 held on Labor Day weekend. During its heyday, it was considered one of the most prestigious and exclusive clubs in motorsports.
The club was sponsored by longtime NASCAR sponsor Unocal/Union 76. Previously it was sponsored by Pure Oil. At some time after the 2001 season, the club was quietly retired, as NASCAR made rule changes that effectively eliminated its usefulness. The club ended permanently when Unocal left the sport in 2003, and the Ferko lawsuit ended the traditional Labor Day Southern 500.
The original eight charter members were selected in 1959: Dick Joslin (Dodge), Marvin Panch (Ford), Joe Caspolich (Oldsmobile), Bob Burdick (Thunderbird), Speedy Thompson (Chevrolet), Richard Petty (Plymouth), Elmo Langley (Buick), and Fireball Roberts (Pontiac). Roberts was selected as the first president; Former Darlington Raceway president Bob Colvin contributed in creating the club.
Drivers were awarded membership in the club based on official time trials for the Southern 500. The fastest single driver of each car make (e.g. Chevrolet, Ford, etc.) each won the membership. The general requirements for eligibility were as follows:
- Car making the qualifying attempt must be a current model year car.
- At least three cars from each car make must be entered for that make to have an automatic berth in the club for that year.
- The fastest single driver from each of the various car makes qualified for the club, provided their speed was within 2% of the fastest overall car in the field.
Special provisions were made for other cars:
- If only one car from a particular make is entered, that driver was only eligible if he set a track record for that car make; and was within 2% of the fastest overall car in the field (i.e., the pole position winner for the race)
- If the car was not a current model year chassis, that driver was only eligible if he was the overall fastest driver for that make (i.e., faster than all the current model year chassis of that same make); and he was within 2% of the fastest overall car in the field.
By 2000, the "within 2%" rule was tightened to "within 1%."
Drivers who qualified for the club attended a special dinner and reception and received a special blue blazer. Drivers who entered the club by setting an overall Darlington track record, however, received the more prestigious white blazer. A ring, a plaque and a cash award were also presented. Entry into the club was a lifetime membership, but only active members participated in actual duties. The reception dinner was held on the Friday of Labor Day weekend (two days prior to the Southern 500), and would recognize the drivers who qualified based on the previous year's event.
Only records set in the September weekend Southern 500 were recognized for the club. Any records set during the Rebel 300/400/500 (the spring race -- now Bojangles' 500), or support races (added in 1983 to the Southern 500 weekend) were not eligible.
Once the membership was established, the active members of the club were eligible for the annual Competition Board. All active members who qualified for the race within 2% of the fastest car in the field (later 1%) were placed on the board. The board's primary responsibilities were to assist NASCAR in training rookies for racing at each race during the season.
Once the Competition Board was established, the board members voted amongst themselves to select the Club President and Club Vice-President. Each had a tenure of one year. The president's duties primarily were to lead the rookie training, and conduct the annual Southern 500 rookie orientation meeting/test. Until 1993, rookies were required to pass a special rookie orientation test (similar to the Indianapolis 500) before attempting to qualify at Darlington for either race. Likewise, they were not allowed to qualify on the first day of time trials, and were relegated to the second round only (starting 21st or lower).
By 1982, NASCAR added a support race in the Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series of 200 miles for the Rebel 500 weekend, and in 1983 another Late Model Sportsman race was run on Southern 500 weekend as a 250-mile race (owing to Blue Laws in South Carolina, the race was set to the state's 250-mile minimum for Sunday races). In 1984, NASCAR decided that that series (now the Nationwide Series) would race on both weekends. As younger drivers using the series had gained Darlington experience through the two 200-mile races annually, the rookie panel and NASCAR decided in 1993 to abolish both the rookie test and the first-round rookie prohibition, as even "rookies" in most years had typically made four or more starts through support races.
Record Club by car make
Alphabetical member list
Bold indicates track record member (white blazer)
*Posthumous induction. Irwin won pole and set the track record in 1999 during Pepsi Southern 500 qualifying, but was killed at during Cup practice at the Loudon July race ten months later.
Tenure runs for 12 months, from September to September of each year.
- The Official NASCAR Preview and Press Guide, 1994 & 2001 edition
- Rookies get scoop on each track from veteran Rudd, August 31, 2000
- Brooks, Allison, Tyner To Be Inducted Into Record Club
- The Official NASCAR Preview and Press Guide 1994. Charlotte: UMI Publications, Inc. 1994.
- The Official NASCAR Preview and Press Guide 2001. Charlotte: UMI Publications, Inc. 2001.
- Rudd, Ricky (2003-08-27). "Manic Monday". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2011-09-00.
- Dick Joslin Facts
- "Pure Record Club Members". FireballRoberts.com. Retrieved 2011-10-10.
- "Martin paces 2nd day of qualifying". Times Daily Tennessee Edition (Florence, AL). March 26, 1988. Retrieved 2011-10-07.
- Racing-Reference.info - Race Results at Darlington Raceway
- "NASCAR Challenge". Season 2. 2011-04-11. History Channel.