Long Standing Tradition

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DARLINGTON, S.C. - The final Southern 500 of Labor Day weekend coming Sunday, Kyle Petty and the #45 Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge team head to the 1.33-mile Darlington Raceway this week. The Southern 500 moves to November beginning in 2004, ending NASCAR’s longest tradition.

Petty, 43, will be making his 669th career start this weekend. He is 10th on the all-time list in NASCAR Winston Cup career starts, and fourth among active drivers. His eight career victories place him 45th on NASCAR’s all-time list in Winston Cup wins. One of the most recognizable names in international motorsports, as is his sponsor, Georgia-Pacific, Petty’s driving career began with a five-race season in 1979. The native of Level Cross, N.C., has won over $17 million.

The thoughts of Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge driver Kyle Petty heading into Darlington:

“Somebody asked me when was the last time I was not at Darlington for the Labor Day weekend, and I’m not sure there has ever been one. There sure haven’t been many. The Southern 500 is 10 years older than I am.

“The thing is, I’ve done about everything you can do at Darlington. I’ve raced there. I’ve had good days there and bad days there on the race track. But I’ve played football and baseball there in the infield. I’ve camped out. I’ve had hamburger steak at the Raceway Grill (infamous restaurant across the street from the second turn). I had big moments in all four turns of the race track, and then had more big moments in all four turns after they renamed them all.

“So, yeah, love it or hate it, that track is a big, big part of my life. I know a lot of people are concerned with it moving off that Labor Day weekend, and that does end a long period of tradition. But we’re still going to be there twice a year, and I think the place is going to be just as tough and just as challenging whether they run there in September or November.

“Colder temperatures might be helpful in November because the track probably won’t be as slick as it can get on Labor Day. That sun gets awfully hot, and the track can get really greasy. Still, we’ve had so many thunderstorms there the past few years that it tends to wash all of the rubber off the track and tighten it back up again.

“Tire wear is still going to be a situation, regardless of what time of year. Goodyear gives us a great tire but the surface is so abrasive that it is going to play a factor, no matter what time of year it might be. Run a few laps there, and the car slows down. Run a lot of laps there, and your lap times slow down a lot.

“You are going to see the same kind of racing in November that you see in the Spring or around Labor Day. There will be those races where somebody really hooks up and takes off, and there will be races like this past March when two guys are door-to-door heading to the finish line.

“The track is going to be just as tough on rookies and just as tough on veterans as it ever was. The place is over 50 years old and nobody has figured it out completely yet. You might have people like David Pearson and Cale Yarborough, who both won a lot of races there, but nobody really has a complete handle on the place. It changes on you, year to year . . . race to race, for that matter.

“I’ve had my differences with the place, but I think everybody has. I’ve never left there without hearing two or three drivers cussing the track, swearing they will never go back again. But they always come back, and they always think they have it figured out this time. Some times they do. A lot of times they don’t.

“I don’t really buy the ‘Darlington is practically human’ deal but I’d say it comes closer than any other track. The place really does seem to have a personality all it’s own. It does seem to favor somebody over somebody else every time we go there. And it does seem if somebody gets fairly successful, that ol’ track slaps him down a couple of times to humble him.

“There is so much history there, so much of our history as a stock car racing organization. So many great names have come through there, and you just about have to win there to be considered truly a great driver. That history won’t change with a date change.

“Still, that last Labor Day weekend race, it would really be nice to see a Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge sitting in that final Labor Day victory lane.”

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