What began as a way for Darlington Raceway to promote the Southern 500 returning to Labor Day weekend after a 12-year absence off its traditional date, has morphed into a celebration of NASCAR’s past.
The festive atmosphere is everywhere around the venerable track, NASCAR’s oldest speedway that’s hosted races since 1950. Upwards of 30 drivers have throwback designs on their cars from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s with many crew members wearing corresponding uniforms.
“This whole weekend is really cool,” Joey Logano said Friday. “I was really excited to walk into the garage this morning and be able to check out all the paint schemes. We have all seen pictures of them, but to see them in person is really cool. I can’t wait to see when we are all side-by-side starting the race and everyone has their throwback paint schemes and all the stuff that comes along with it.”
The scheme on Logano’s No. 22 car honors Mario Andretti, who ran a similar design in the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car is a mirror of the scheme Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker and Neil Bonnett raced in the early-1980s. Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet is a near replica of another Kyle (Petty) who used to drive a No. 42 Mellow Yellow sponsored car. Chase Elliott is paying homage to his father, Bill, and how his car looked when he won the 1985 Southern 500.
Southern 500 Coverage
Southern 500 Coverage
Not everyone is running a retro scheme in Sunday’s race, but the majority of the 43-car field will have a special design to the point those who don’t will definitely stand out.
“The teams that show up @TooToughToTame with no throwback scheme will be like those people who show up at costume [parties] not dressed up,” Earnhardt Jr. tweeted this week.
That Darlington became a collection of vintage paint schemes stems from a collaboration between track president Chip Wile and International Speedway Corp. chief marketing officer Daryl Wolfe on how to increase the track’s viability.
To coincide with the Southern 500 retuning to Labor Day weekend date it held from 1950 to 2003, ISC, which owns Darlington, wanted to recapture the allure of what made Darlington special. This meant embracing its rich history. From there Wile went to work not just selling teams on the vision of having a “throwback race.” The original intent was to recruit a handful of teams to run special paint schemes, a goal quickly reached as the concept took flight.
“It truly has been a grassroots level effort,” Wile told SB Nation. “We burned up the road from here to Charlotte (N.C.) meeting with all the teams and other stakeholders showing them what our plan was and then figuring out how they could integrate it. I feel that’s why this has been so successful. It’s not because we’ve been driving the bus, but everyone getting involved and figuring how they could be a part of it.”
The throwback vibe goes beyond just on the track and extends throughout Darlington. Focusing on the 1970s era, officials are bringing in Grand Funk Railroad to play a pre-race concert Sunday, fans can purchase three food items that were served during that time — fried green tomatoes, a pimento cheese sandwich on white bread and a sausage perlo — and vintage merchandise such as T-shirts and hats are available to purchase.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) September 4, 2015
And the drivers have more than gotten into the spirit. Earnhardt, whose passion for the history of NASCAR runs deep, made sure he had the same colored shoes as Yarborough. Bowyer’s firesuit is nearly identical to that of Baker.
Aric Almirola took things even farther. Wanting to look like car owner Richard Petty, Almirola grew a Fu Manchu mustache that Petty sported during the 1972 season, which is also the same year of the scheme on Almirola’s No. 43 car.
“The sponsors have gotten involved and the crew guys and the race track, obviously,” Almirola said. “It is really neat to walk through the garage area and see the cars and pit crew guys. It really makes you realize how far our sport has come and just the appreciation of what all the teams and everybody has for the guys that came before us.”
— RPMotorsports (@RPMotorsports) September 4, 2015
The only way Almirola could’ve appeared more like Petty is if he had worn a cowboy hat and sunglasses. But there was reason why Almirola elected not to wear Petty’s trademark accessories.
“(Petty) didn’t wear the cowboy hat in 1972,” Almirola said. “He started wearing it later on. I am trying to be traditional. I have the bill of my hat square like he did when he would shove it in his back pocket. I am trying to be as original as I can.”