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NASCAR has done its best over the past decade to make itself presentable to corporate America.

It’s expanded across the country while phasing out or reducing races at older Southeastern sites, embraced “diversity” and tried to distance itself from its more “rustic” fans, many of whom carried the sport in the decades before it became socially palatable to the big-time sponsors whose dollars are in high demand now.

Watch interviews with drivers from even 20 years ago and it’s remarkable how much more polished today’s drivers appear. Of course, if you ask the drivers from 20 years ago about the drivers of today, the old-timers would describe them as “bland,” and they’d be right in a lot of cases.

But then, that’s how corporate America – and NASCAR – wants it, so that’s how the public gets it.

It’s no secret that in the effort to appeal to a wider audience, NASCAR has broken with a good bit of its past. Many say the sport is the poorer for it.

For example, in one of its more inane moves a few years back, NASCAR pulled the Southern 500 from Darlington Raceway, where it started in 1950. The long-time Labor Day race, which helped put NASCAR on the sports map, was moved to Southern California, to the chagrin of traditionalists.

But, in an all-too-rare nod to common sense, NASCAR has resurrected the Southern 500 moniker and brought it back to Darlington, where it will be held this Saturday for the first time in five years.

As a lead-up to the race, The State newspaper in Columbia, SC, ran a nice profile on South Carolina native and five-time Southern 500 winner Cale Yarborough.

Yarborough, who was tough as nails and won 83 Winston Cup races, saw his first Southern 500 in 1951, at age 11, by crawling in under the fence.

“I wasn’t sneaking in to be sneaking in,” he told The State. “I was just too anxious to get inside and see my heroes.”

Maybe the sports world has changed too much over the past 20 years for NASCAR to go back to the way it used to be, but racing today sure could stand a few more drivers like Cale Yarborough.

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Carl Zeiss Optronics USA Inc. saidWednesday it will locate its first US office in Richland County, South Carolina. It plans to provide its optronics products in support of US military, homeland defense and law enforcement communities.

The company is connected to German-based Carl Zeiss Optronics GmbH, one of the oldest existing optics manufacturers in the world, and traces its history back to German optician Carl Zeiss (1816-1888).

Zeiss, seen above, became a celebrated lens maker in the 1840s when he created high quality lenses that had a very large aperture range, allowing for very bright images. Initially, his lenses were only used in the production of microscopes, but when cameras were invented, his company began manufacturing high quality lenses for cameras.

In 1872, Zeiss teammed up with physicist Ernst Abbe. According to Wikipedia, their combined efforts lead to the discovery of the Abbe sine condition. Theoretically, the Abbe sine condition could greatly improve lens production. Unfortunately, there did not exist at the time a type of glass strong enough to fully test the theory.

Abbe then met chemist Otto Schott. They collaborated and soon produced a new type of glass in 1886 that could fully use the Abbe sine condition. This new type of glass made possible a new class of microscope lens: the apochromatic.

Zeiss also used water immersion to form a compensating eyepiece which produced images with little or no color distortion.

By 1900, Zeiss’s company had more than 1,000 employees and the company continued to make radical advances in microscope technology.

During World War II, microscope development was put on the back burner by order of the Nazi government, according to the company’s history.

Nevertheless, the microscope development laboratory designed and built a cine-micrographic apparatus and in 1943 shot the first cine record of a cell division through a phase microscope – an examination method that opened up a new era of cell research.

At the end of World War II, Zeiss was split in half. Zeiss managers and many scientists were evacuated to the American zone, but many more scientists, designers, engineers and foremen were taken to Russia, according to company information.

Today, the company employs about 750 people worldwide.

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South Carolina has yet to register a bank failure in the current economic downturn, but that doesn’t mean the state hasn’t been impacted by seizures elsewhere.

First Community Corp. of Lexington announced Wednesday that it lost several hundred thousand dollars as a result of its investment in Silverton Bank, an Atlanta bank that was closed by regulators on May 1.

First Community had to revise its first quarter earnings down $336,000 as a result of Silverton’s failure, the company said in a statement. First Community had previously written down $176,000 of its investment in Silverton’s common stock, bringing the total loss to more than $500,000.

As a result of the writedown, First Community’s earnings for first quarter 2009 dropped to $408,000 from $744,000.

Silverton was unusual in that it did not take deposits or make loans to retail customers. Rather, it made loans to member banks and provided other services, such as investment banking and check processing.

Silverton clients include about 1,400 banks scattered over 44 states. Its holding company was owned by about 400 banks, mostly small community-based banks and many in Georgia, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

As such, it’s possible many other bank companies will be revising their earnings reports in the weeks ahead to reflect writedowns in the value of their investments in Silverton.