1950 Southern 500

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1950 Southern Five-Hundred
Race details[1]
Race 13 of 19 in the 1950 NASCAR Grand National Series season
Layout of Darlington Raceway
Layout of Darlington Raceway
Date September 4, 1950 (1950-September-04)
Official name Southern Five-Hundred
Location Darlington Raceway, Darlington, South Carolina
Course Permanent racing facility
1.375 mi (2.213 km)
Distance 400 laps, 500 mi (800 km)
Weather Very hot with temperatures reaching up to 90 °F (32 °C); wind speeds up to 8.9 miles per hour (14.3 km/h)
Average speed 82.766 miles per hour (133.199 km/h)
Attendance 25,000
Pole position
Driver John Eanes
Time 43.884 seconds[2]
Most laps led
Driver Johnny Mantz Hubert Westmoreland
Laps 351
No. 98 Johnny Mantz Hubert Westmoreland

The inaugural Southern Five-Hundred (shortened in 1951 to Southern 500) was part of the 1950 NASCAR Grand National series that took place September 4, 1950, at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina. It was responsible for turning the Southern 500 into the biggest racing event prior to the 1959 Daytona 500. While this edition of the Southern 500 would be hosted in association with the Central States Racing Association, all of the other Southern 500 races would be hosted exclusively by NASCAR.[3]


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, at the time, was a four-turn 1.25 miles (2.01 km) oval.[4] 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.[4] The front stretch (the location of the finish line) and the back stretch is banked at six degrees.[4]

Harold Brasington was a retired racer in 1948, who had gotten to know Bill France, Sr. while competing against France at the Daytona Beach Road Course and other dirt tracks in the Southeast and Midwestern United States. He quit racing in the late 1940s to concentrate on farming and his construction business.[5] He began planning a new speedway after he noticed the huge crowds while attending the 1948 Indianapolis 500[5] and thought, "If Tony Hulman can do it here, I can do it back home."[5] Brasington bought 70 acres from farmer Sherman Ramsey, and started making a race track from a cotton and peanut field.[5] However, he was forced to create an egg-shaped oval with one corner tighter, narrower, and more steeply banked because he promised Ramsey that the new track wouldn't disturb Ramsey's minnow pond at the west side of the property.[5] Brasington was able to make the other turn at the east side of the property wide, sweeping, and flat as he wanted.[5] It took almost a year to build the track.[5]


Historical information[edit]

This racing event helped to modernize stock car racing from its roots as a recreational pastime for moonshiners to an organized sport done on asphalt race tracks superior to the American highway system. Gasoline cost 18 cents a gallon (equivalent to 4.5 cents per litre) to drive an unmodified vehicle to the race; but was free of charge during the race. The same gasoline that was sold in American service stations were used in NASCAR during this era. Cars were driven directly to the track as opposed to being towed from more than 2,500 miles or 4,000 kilometres away. While hotels and modern infrastructure were scarce in the Southern United States during the 1950s, people who attended this early NASCAR event started to create makeshift camping areas around the race track to soak up the full NASCAR experience.

The Interstate Highway System would not begun construction until later in the decade; its heyday and prominence as an "American superhighway" for leisure and business travel didn't kick in until the late 1960s when NASCAR first felt the need to expand outside its regional "shell" and into the national stage.[6] Until hotel accommodations reached the same level of accessibility in the Southern United States as it was in the more economically developed northeastern part of the country, camping with tents and trailers was the only viable way for a NASCAR fan to have a race-oriented vacation. It was also the first 500-mile race in the history of NASCAR. Being the first superspeedway in NASCAR, Darlington would be the precedent for race tracks like the Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. The winning vehicle was Johnny Mantz's 1950 Plymouth (owned by Hubert Westmoreland). Harold Brasington, a local businessman, was motivated to open Darlington Speedway for the introductory race after being impressed by the 1933 Indianapolis 500. Brasington's plan called for a true oval, but the racetrack's design had to be changed in order to satisfy Sherman Ramsey who didn't want his minnow pond to be disturbed.[7]


More than 80 entrants showed up for the race.[5] Brasington used a 2-week qualifying scheme similar to the one used at the Indianapolis 500.[8] Brasington was also inspired by Indianapolis when he had the 75 car field aligned in 25 rows of three cars.[8] These practices have been curtailed over the years as NASCAR adopted a more uniform set of guidelines with regard to the number of cars which could qualify for a race. The race was won by Johnny Mantz in a car owned by France.

Drivers who failed to qualify for the race were Dorothy Shull, Herb Thomas, Bill Bennett, Lewis Hawkins, Pap White, Louise Smith and Pat Sutton. The fastest qualifying speed during qualifying was 82.034 miles per hour or 132.021 kilometres per hour by Wally Campbell while the slowest qualifying speed in qualifying was 74.637 miles per hour or 120.117 kilometres per hour by Bill Widenhouse.[2]

Pee Wee Martin and Bob Smith would retire from professional stock car racing after the conclusion of this event. Byron Beatty, Walt Crawford, P.E. Godfrey, Bill Henson, Pete Keller, Jerry Kemp, Lee Morgan, Dick Soper and Jack Yardley made their only NASCAR start in this event. Weldon Adams, Roy Bentley, Jack Carr, Gene Comstock, Gene Darragh, John DuBoise, Carson Dyer, Joe Eubanks, Johnny Grubb, J.E. Hardie, Tex Keene, Bub King, Virgil Livengood, Hub McBride, Hershel McGriff, Bill Osborne, Barney Smith, Rollin Smith, Jesse James Taylor, Charles Tidwell, Murrace Walker, Bill Widenhouse and Shorty York would begin their NASCAR career at this race; sparking the first generation of true stock car drivers.[9]

Race analysis[edit]

U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond was the official marshal for the 1950 Southern 500.[10] He was known for his conservative policies in the Southern United States in those days; just like most Southern Congressmen and Senators who belonged to the Democratic Party prior to the 1970s.[11]

The top prize for the race was $10,510 ($106,902.54 when adjusted for inflation) while the lowest known prize amount for the race was $100 ($1,017.15 when adjusted for inflation) for 72nd place. Seventy-five cars competed in this era of relatively unregulated racing for a total of $25,325 in winnings ($257,593.43 when adjusted for inflation).[12]

Other entries for manufacturers included Oldsmobile (defunct), Cadillac (active but not racing in NASCAR), Mercury (defunct), Ford (active), Buick (active but not racing in NASCAR), Pontiac (defunct), Nash (defunct), Lincoln (active but not racing in NASCAR), Studebaker (defunct), and Kaiser (defunct). There was no entry for Chevrolet vehicles during that race, probably because Chevrolet wasn't considered a fast car until the 1955 V8 models.

The other top ten finishers included: Fireball Roberts, Red Byron, Bill Rexford, Chuck Mahoney, Lee Petty, Cotton Owens, Bill Blair, Hershel McGriff, and George Hartley. As of 2011, Hershel McGriff still competes in regional road courses races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series.[13] Hershel McGriff might be the last living driver from this event; having attained the advanced age of 88 years old as of August 11, 2016. Jerry Kemp found his way upside down sometime around lap 315; he would end up finishing in 49th place after qualifying for the race in 39th place.[12]

Gober Sosebee led the first 4 laps, Curtis Turner, the polesitter, then led until lap 22, before eventually flipping on lap 275. After Turner lost the lead, Cotton Owens lead for 23 laps. After that, Mantz led to the finish. The total time of the race was six hours, thirty-eight minutes, and forty seconds (longer than a baseball or a football game of that era). The average speed was 75.250 miles per hour (121.103 km/h) while the pole position speed was 82.034 miles per hour (132.021 km/h). Two cautions were taken for thirteen laps and the winner won by more than nine laps. Attendance stood at 25,000 people; which completely filled the grandstands back then when seating opportunities were fewer. Four hundred laps were done on a paved oval track spanning 1.250 miles (2.012 km). Most of the known DNFs in the race were caused by crashes with the occasional spindle incident.[12]

Notable crew chiefs that were associated with this event were Bud Moore, Buddy Elliott, Julian Buesink and Rod McLean. Their drivers were Joe Eubanks, Tim Flock, Bill Rexford, George Hartley, Jim Paschal and Buck Baker.[14]


Finishing order[edit]

Section reference:[12]

* Driver is known to have failed to finish the race
^ Indicates the driver definitely finished the race
The presence of neither * nor ^ indicates that the driver's finishing status is not known.


Section reference:[12]

  • Start of race: Gober Sosebee officially started the race with the pole position
  • Lap 5: Curtis Turner took over the lead from Gober Sosebee
  • Lap 24: Roscoe Thompson overheated his vehicle, making him the last-place finisher
  • Lap 27: Cotton Owens took over the lead from Curtis Turner
  • Lap 50: Johnny Mantz took over the lead from Cotton Owens
  • Lap 52: Jack Carr's vehicle overheated while he was racing
  • Lap 89: Jack Yardley failed to finish the race
  • Lap 98: Alton Haddock failed to finish the race
  • Lap 112: Lloyd Moore failed to finish the race
  • Lap 155: Kenneth Wagner failed to finish the race
  • Lap 176: Buck Baker had a terminal crash, forcing him to retire from the event
  • Lap 188: Gayle Warner failed to finish the race
  • Lap 200: Bill Henson failed to finish the race
  • Lap 208: Rollin Smith failed to finish the race
  • Lap 219: Clyde Minter failed to finish the race
  • Lap 229: Tex Keene had a terminal crash, forcing him to retire from the event
  • Lap 230: Marshall Teague failed to finish the race
  • Lap 238: Tommy Thompson failed to finish the race
  • Lap 249: Bob Apperson failed to finish the race
  • Lap 278: P.E. Godfrey failed to finish the race
  • Lap 281: Pete Keller failed to finish the race
  • Lap 282: Dick Soper failed to finish the race
  • Lap 284: Al Keller failed to finish the race
  • Lap 320: Curtis Turner had a terminal crash after leading 22 laps, forcing him to retire from the event
  • Lap 331: Jimmy Florian had a problem with his vehicle's spindle, knocking him out of the race
  • Lap 332: Jimmy Thompson managed to overheat his vehicle's engine
  • Lap 333: Glenn Dunaway finished well behind the lead lap drivers, his standing wasn't fully recorded
  • Lap 334: Harold Kite finished well behind the lead lap drivers, his standing wasn't fully recorded
  • Lap 340: Slick Smith finished well behind the lead lap drivers, his standing wasn't fully recorded
  • Lap 341: Hub McBride finished well behind the lead lap drivers, his standing wasn't fully recorded
  • Lap 344: Pee Wee Martin managed to overheat his vehicle while he was racing
  • Lap 345: Jack Smith had a terminal crash, forcing him to retire from the event
  • Lap 346: Fonty Flock finished well behind the lead lap drivers, his standing wasn't fully recorded
  • Lap 350: Bill Widenhouse finished well behind the lead lap drivers, his standing wasn't fully recorded
  • Lap 351: Byron Beaty finished well behind the lead lap drivers, his standing wasn't fully recorded
  • Lap 354: Jack White finished well behind the lead lap drivers, his standing wasn't fully recorded
  • Lap 355: Gene Comstock finished well behind the lead lap drivers, his standing wasn't fully recorded
  • Finish: Johnny Mantz was officially declared the winner of the event


  1. ^ Complete weather information for the 1950 Southern 500 at The Old Farmers' Almanac
  2. ^ a b 1950 Southern 500 qualifying information at Racing Reference
  3. ^ NASCAR Off the Record at Google Books
  4. ^ a b c "Darlington Raceway". CBS Sports. Retrieved 2013-05-07. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Fleischman, Bill; Al Pearce (1999). The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide (1998-99). Visible Ink Press. p. 7. 
  6. ^ Darlington made stock car racing a modern sport at NASCAR.com
  7. ^ Darlington Raceway History at Darlington Raceway's official web site
  8. ^ a b Fleischman, page 8
  9. ^ Driver debuts and retirements at Race Database
  10. ^ Information about the official marshal at 50 Things You May Not Know About NASCAR
  11. ^ Paul Finkelman and Peter Wallenstein, eds. The Encyclopedia Of American Political History (CQ Press, 2001) pp. 124–126
  12. ^ a b c d e 1950 Southern 500: racing information at Racing-Reference
  13. ^ McGriff Not Ready To Slow Down At 83 at NASCAR Local Racing
  14. ^ 1950 Southern 500 crew chief information at Racing Reference
Preceded by
Southern 500 races
Succeeded by