The Darlington Raceway Stock Car Museum showcases 62 years of track history with stock cars--including the 1950 Plymouth that Johnny Mantz drove to victory in the first Southern 500--and profiles of the drivers who raced them.
Mike McNeely , a devoted NASCAR fan since he was a boy, had driven past the Darlington Raceway Stock Car Museum many times over the years but was always in too much of a hurry to drop by for a visit. Then one warm afternoon in early September on his way back from Myrtle Beach to his home in North Carolina, he stopped to take a look around.
“It’s extraordinary,” McNeely, 38, said as he strolled through the museum galleries that highlight many of the drivers he followed in his youth. “It helps bring back a lot of those old NASCAR memories from years past.”
McNeely is one of thousands of racing fans from around the United States who visit the museum each year to pay homage to their beloved sport and the legions of drivers who took NASCAR from humble beginnings to the most popular spectator sport in the nation.
Darlington raceway holds a special place in the hearts of NASCAR fans because it was the sport’s first paved speedway. Before that, rough-and-tumble drivers competed on rural dirt tracks scattered throughout the South.
The museum was built in 1965 and was originally called the Joe Weatherly Stock Car Museum in memory of the popular 1960s driver who had long championed a museum honoring the sport. In 2003, a renovation more than doubled the exhibition area. And, because NASCAR had changed dramatically over the years, the museum’s name was changed to the Darlington Raceway Stock Car Museum.
Inside, the history of stock car racing is mixed with exhibits on the colorful personalities who wheeled their way around the famous egg-shaped track over the last 62 years. Don’t miss Richard Petty’s trademark straw hat, Dale Earnhardt’s iconic sunglasses, Fireball Roberts’ silver helmet and period photographs of legendary drivers Cannonball Baker and Jim Paschal.
The Darlington Raceway Stock Car Museum is located at 1301 Harry Byrd Highway in Darlington.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday–Friday,
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m on Sunday.
Admission: $5 for adults. Children under age 12 are admitted free of charge.
Details: (843) 395-8821, darlingtonraceway.com
And, of course, there are the cars. One of the first sights that greet visitors when they enter the museum is the black 1950 Plymouth that JohnnyMantz drove to victory—at a then blistering 75 mph—during the first Southern 500 at the Darlington track. The win netted him the princely sum of $10,510 and a priceless spot in NASCAR history.
Other stock car gems include the famous No. 43 Plymouth that Richard Petty drove to the checkered flag 10 times in 1967; the 1985 Ford Thunderbird Bill Elliott drove to win that year’s Southern 500 and collect a $1 million bonus; and a 1956 Ford convertible that won 22 races in a single year—a NASCAR record unbroken to this day.
“The cars are truly the stars of our museum,” said Terry M. “Mac” Josey, the speedway’s vice president and general manager. “There are very few places in the world where you can see the evolution in racing like you can in our museum. When you walk in here, you just know it is a very special place.”