Last Lap: ‘Mr. Raceway’ takes a final trip around track he loved so dearly
Harold King may not have the name recognition equal to that of other Darlington Raceway legends such as Harold Brasington, David Pearson or Cale Yarborough, but ask anyone familiar with the history of the Track Too Tough to Tame and they will assure you that he has more than earned legendary status.
Known by many as “Mr. Raceway,” King, passed away March 12. He was 95. King worked for the track in some capacity since its very first race in 1950. For decades he gave the invocation prior to the start of each race at Darlington.
Prior to his funeral on March 15, King’s family, Darlington Raceway officials, and Belk Funeral Home made arrangements for King to take one final lap around ‘The Lady in Black.’ Led by a pace car, a white hearse carrying King made its way around the famed 1.3-mile asphalt oval. With his family in a vehicle just behind him, King took the checkered flag as he crossed the finish line. His race finished, King‘s family and friends will tell you he is now celebrating in victory lane.
According to Bridget Holloman, an executive assistant at the raceway, the honor of taking a posthumous lap around the track has been granted to only one other person – longtime track employee Clarice Lane, who passed away several years ago.
“He was someone very special who we all loved,” said Holloman.
A lifelong resident of Darlington, King served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and then returned to Darlington County where he began a 28-year career at the Dixie Cup plant.
King was just 25 when he helped count ticket money collected in a bucket at the track’s very first race. “Mr. Raceway” has been in attendance at every race since.
Ironically, King was never an “official” employee of the raceway. Still, he was a constant presence during race weeks for nearly 70 years.
In a New York Times interview in 2008, King explained the connection between the town of Darlington and the raceway.
“When it was announced (in 2003) that Darlington was losing the Southern 500 race on Labor Day, it was a dark day in the history of our area,” He said. “There is a passion on the part of the people that the Southern 500 was as real to them as the courthouse is in the public square. That was something that belonged to us.”
When the ‘big race” returns to the raceway in September, there will no doubt be a moment of silence or some remembrance held in honor of “Mr. Raceway.”
As one long-time Darlington resident stated, “It just won’t be the same.”