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decided that the racin’ gods would hold another poker game weekend and celebrate the last Labor Day Southern 500.

It was Thursday evening and the racin’ gods were preparing for the poker game weekend.  The horseshoe pits had been setup.  The poker tables, grills, coolers & chairs were all cleaned and put in place. They had called the boys to come over for a weekend of poker playing, eating, drinking and racing so they could give the Southern 500 a proper sendoff.   Dale called and he was bringing his dad Ralph, Neil, Alan, Davey and Clifford over after they got back from fishing. Curtis Turner and Little Joe were bringing Tim Richmond & Kenny Irwin.  Tim Flock was driving over with Tiny, Fireball & John Nemechek. Harold Brasington & H. Clay Earles were coming together. Billy & Bobby Myers were coming with Marshall Teague.  Lee Petty was coming and bringing his grandson, Adam, who the racin’ gods decide was exactly like Richard when he was Adam's age.  This would be one humdinger of a party.

Friday begin hot & humid in Darlington.  Race fans around the track lamented how this was the hottest they had ever been at Darlington & wondered how bad Sunday would be.  Up above the racin’ gods were wondering the same and called on Mother Nature to ask her plans for the weather this weekend.

“Like always, hot humid and a chance of rain in the afternoon” was her answer when asked.

“Please just this once, could you cancel the rain?” asked Horace the racin’ god who was put in charge of planning.

“We are planning a party for the Last Labor Day race at Darlington and would like to reward all the fans who are coming.”

Mother Nature being a good ole girl from North Carolina readily agreed to hold off the ever present rain and give them clear skies the whole weekend.

The boys started arriving Friday night and the poker games began.  They played late into the night with everyone having a blast listening to Tiny & Tim tell stories from the ole days.  Saturday morning broke clear and sunny.  As the grills were cooking the Bar B Q Ribs the talk turned to the sport they all loved on earth.

“I can’t believe that this is the last Labor Day Southern 500” remarked a sad Harold Brasington.

“Seems like nothing is sacred anymore” added Dale.  “Wish I was still there.  I would boycott the new race like I said I would.  But dang, there aren’t many left from the old school who will even speak their minds about this injustice."

“Heck, the pole sitter is one of them young guns that we hear about all the time.  It ain’t right that drivers who don’t appreciate or love Darlington should get glory this weekend” exclaimed Joe.

The racin’ gods could see that the party was beginning to sound like a wake & decided that they had to do something.  After a discussion the racin’ gods called all the boys over to tell them something.

“We’ve decided that it is only fittin’ that we are at the track this weekend.  We are moving this party to the infield where we can suck up as much atmosphere as we can. We know it’s only a matter of time before we aren’t going to be able to go to the infield of Darlington and watch the series race.  We want you boys to have a good time this weekend.”

With that they all went down to earth and landed in the Darlington Infield.  Once there they were told by the racin’ gods, “No one who is still alive can see ya’ll.  Go have some fun and meet back here after the Busch race to go back to the heavens.”

And with that they all went roaming the infield.  Dale & Ralph went over to Jr.’s stall to see what Tony and the boys were doing to the car.

Lee & Adam went in search of Kyle and Richard.  Little Joe, Fireball and Tiny went to the museum.  Tim Richmond & Curtis Turner took off to find a party.

After the Busch race, they went back to the heavens and started tossing the shoes, drinking a few cold ones and telling stories. Talk turned to the Southern 500.  The racin’ gods proclaimed they had an announcement.

“After much consideration we decided that we are running interference tomorrow at the race.  The sport & the fans need something special to happen tomorrow.  The winner of the race needs to be some one who will make everyone happy that he won the race.  One of the older guys should win the race.  One that would show the track & race the appreciation and respect they deserve.”

All agreed it was the thing to do.  But which one? 

Dale offered the first suggestion “how about Rusty?  He could sure use it.”   

“Kenny Schrader is a good choice” proclaimed Bobby Myers.

“How about Jimmy Spencer?  Seems to me he deserves it for punching the snot nosed punk in the mouth” chimed in Curtis.

“Ya’ll know my pick is Kyle” added Lee Petty.

This was going to be harder than the racin’ gods thought.  They thought it over & decided that they would throw obstacles in the way of the young guns & that would open the door for the strongest older driver to emerge.  Knowing the guys who would fall into this group, the gods decided all they needed was a little luck for one of them to rise to the top.  With that decided the boys turned their thoughts back to more important things like cold beer, hot boiled peanuts, cards & horseshoes.

Sunday’s skies broke clear & blue.  The boys and the racin’ gods all shot back down to the infield. 

Harold Brasington said “look at all the fans in the stands.  This is how my kingdom should look.”

They stood on pit road wall and watched the festivities.  Tiny fell off the wall laughing when Cale’s car ran out of gas. 

“I can’t wait until he joins us to tell him I caused that.  I emptied some of the gas outta the tank.”

With that they all fell into fits of laughter.

The race started and everyone watched intently. Matt Kenseth seemed to be strong so they sent Little Joe into his car to help him.  Into the wall slightly was all that was needed to slow him down.  Jeff Burton usually only won on the Lady in Black if rain was involved so all they threw at him was a little trouble in the pits and into the wall by lapped car was his fate.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a strong horse so the gods sent Curtis down to his pits to mess with the drive train  After letting that boy Newman lead awhile they sent Adam down to his pits to hit the kill switch during the stop.  One by one the young guns got shot out of a chance to win.  They had sent Dale down to whisper in Mikey’s ear to hold up the leader so Jr. could get a lap back.  Jimmie Johnson was leading the race and ran into the back of Mikey as he headed back to the caution flag.  Jeff Gordon, the undisputed master of Darlington got caught up by a lapped car when they sent Tim Richmond to turn Casey’s car into Jeff.  Greg Biffle’s flywheel broke while leading with 60 to go after they sent Davey down to the pits to tinker with it.

With 33 laps remaining, what the racin’ gods had hoped for happened.  An elder driver who loved Darlington rose to the occasion.  Terry Labonte was in the lead.  This seemed right to the racin’ gods and all the boys.  Labonte started his first race at Darlington in 1978 and won his first race there 2 years later.  That was 23 years ago almost to the day.  He was a perfect winner.  Earlier this week he was heard saying ‘moving the Southern 500 is like taking the Kentucky Derby and moving it somewhere else. It's just not right.’  As the laps clicked off the racin’ gods, the boys and the fans in the stands were on their feet.  When the checkered flag waved there was not one person there who wasn’t cheering for the quiet driver from Texas.

With the sound of the fans cheering in their
ears the racin’ gods and the boys all went
back to the heavens to eat Bar b q, drink
some cold ones and play a little more poker.
All seemed right in the racing world once

I sat in the grandstands as I had done for
so many years at The Labor Day Southern
500. I celebrated with everyone else at
Darlington on Sunday when Terry came by
us during his victory lap carrying the
checkered flag.   What an appropriate
winner for the Last Labor Day Southern 500
At that moment, while celebrating there
in the stands, we all silently thanked the racin’ gods for smiling on the real race fan that day.

If you feel like I do that not being in Darlington South Carolina on Labor Day weekend is wrong then vote with your remote!  DO NOT WATCH THE EVENT IN CALIFORNIA!

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The racin’ gods had a poker game for the spring Darlington race & smiled on the race fans with the closest finish in NASCAR history.  That weekend gave the racin’ gods & the boys hope that things might smooth out on earth in the sport they loved.  It was not to be.  A bombshell was dropped when it was announced that the historic Darlington Labor Day Southern 500 would now be held in California & the Rock would lose the fall race.  The Southern 500 was being regulated to an unimportant date in November.  This news made the racin’ gods and all the boys unhappy over the sad state of affairs in their sport today.  It was
The racin’ gods had a poker game & smiled on the real race fan;
A story about the Last Labor Day Southern 500
by Jo Ann Hlavac first posted Sept. 2003