The Southern 500 (1950-2004) is a NASCAR Sprint Cup race held from 1950-2004 at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina, USA. The first running in 1950, is notable as NASCAR's first 500 mile race, and the only race of such distance until the Daytona 500 debuted in 1959. Through most of its history the race was one of NASCAR's premier events, and was known as one of four Crown Jewels on the NASCAR circuit. From 1985-1997, it served as the fourth race of the popular Winston Million. Two drivers, Bill Elliott (1985) and Jeff Gordon (1997), clinched the Winston Million with victories in the Southern 500.
Prior to 2004, this annual event was held on Labor Day weekend. For the 2004 season, a shuffling of the schedule saw the race move to November. Track management considered the November date would allow for cooler, more comfortable weather for fans, whom had increasingly voiced concerns about the weather. Rockingham lost its fall date to Fontana, and the Pop Secret 500 was moved to the lucrative Labor Day weekend date. Incidentally, and originally unbeknownst to fans and competitors, the 2004 Southern 500 would be its last running, despite the seemingly popular move to November.
In 2004, Francis Ferko, a shareholder of the company that owned Texas Motor Speedway, sued NASCAR, saying they had violated anti-trust laws by refusing to have a second race at Texas Motor Speedway, as many other tracks had. The judge ruled in his favor, and NASCAR was forced to give up the Southern 500 date so that a second race could be held at Texas Motor speedway, which became the Dickies 500.
In 2005, the Mountain Dew Southern 500 was removed from the NASCAR schedule and Darlington's Spring race, the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400, was lengthened into the Dodge Charger 500 and changed its date on the calendar to a Saturday night race in May.
The absence of the Labor Day Southern 500 race continues to be a sticking point between NASCAR and much of its fanbase, especially the more traditional wing. However, starting in May of 2009, the name will be revived for the only race at Darlington.
See also: List of current NASCAR races