I’ve been on a bit of an obsessive kick recently and that obsessive kick has been about 1950s racing. From drag racing to Grand Prix competition and NASCAR events, racing in the 1950s was big time stuff, top to bottom. It was also dangerous as hell, deadly, and exploding in popularity. One need look no further than this film about the 1958 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway to understand exactly what I mean.
About 10 years off of WWII the world was far different than it is today. When race drivers got killed it was basically seen as a cost of doing business. No one dies in this video due to a racing accident but that’s only because of some pure miraculousness. Multiple cars blast through the spindly guardrail at the top of the speedway and plunge off of a 40ft drop at over 100mph. Yes, they had a roll bar but that as largely it. A lap belt, glass that could cut a man to ribbons, etc, were all present.
When the Southen 500 started in the early 1950s it marked the true beginning of NASCAR into what it is today. Darlington would serve as the model for the modern super speedway and along with that came riches for the sport’s biggest starts and directors.
From a bumper crop crowd of 36,000 in the early 1950s to 80,000 a half decade later, NASCAR was on the rise. Factories got involved, even if only in secret. The money came from everywhere and it did because of events like the Southern 500.
Yes, the drivers were rowdy, devil-may-care wild men in many instances but they cleaned up well, said yes and no ma’am in front of the cameras and began to gain the same kind of fame as stick and ball stars. They were brave, they died behind the wheel, and all along the way they helped create an American institution.
This video is amazing because we can literally see the sport coming off the launch pad like a rocket.