Just the mention of Darlington Raceway brings up sweet memories for longtime fans of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.

Also known as "the track too tough to tame," Darlington marks its 60th anniversary this weekend by bringing back the Southern 500, the race name that it has been identified with since its first race in 1950.

In addition, the outer retaining walls have been painted with red stripes, something that hasn't been done since 1989.

"We wanted to go 'retro' for our 60th season and I feel like we have certainly accomplished that on many fronts," said Darlington Raceway President Chris Browning. "Going back to the Southern 500 race name and painting the walls in the old red-and-white paint scheme is definitely reminiscent of early NASCAR."

Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and five-time Darlington winner Cale Yarborough will serve as the honorary pace-car driver for the race. Yarborough will also be joined by several past Darlington winners for a special pre-race ceremony honoring their accomplishments.

Current Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven Darlington victories and will make track -- and NASCAR -- history with another victory Saturday night. Of Gordon's seven Darlington wins, five have come in the Southern 500, tying him with Yarborough for most in the prestigious event. A win this weekend will break that tie, but will ironically bring Gordon into another tie with Yarborough in the NASCAR record books.


Gordon currently has 82 career victories, one shy of Yarborough, who sits fifth on the all-time list with 83.

The return of the Southern 500 name combines one of Darlington's oldest traditions with one if its newest -- a Mother's Day weekend race. The addition of lights in 2004 paved the way for the track's spring race to move to Mother's Day weekend, starting a new Darlington tradition. For the fifth consecutive year, mothers of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will serve as the Grand Marshals for Saturday night's race.

"I think Mother's Day is special to all of us, but being in Darlington with our mothers is great," said Carl Edwards, whose mom, Nancy Sterling, attends 15-20 races per year. "It's real cool to race in front of your mother. It's great for her to meet the other drivers' moms."

As much as Edwards enjoys Mother's Day at Darlington, I still have a hard time with the Southern 500 taking place any weekend other than the traditional Labor Day weekend. But with that said, the action at "the Lady in Black" is fun to watch no matter what weekend it is scheduled for, making it a race no fan should miss.

Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dispatch. She can be reached at esiska@yorkdispatch.com.