Since the late 1960s and early 1970s, sponsorships have increasingly become an integral part of NASCAR.
In 1971, Winston became the title sponsor for NASCAR’s premier series. The following year, Richard Petty and STP teamed up for one of the most iconic partnerships in sports, and although the scope of the relationship has changed some over the years, it’s still going strong today.
Winston is no longer the series sponsor, giving way to NEXTEL and then Sprint. In 2017, a new title sponsor will come aboard.
It used to be rare for a company to sponsor a race car, an event, a facility or a series/league. This was the case for the entire sports landscape, not just NASCAR.
This all changed during the late 1960s and 1970s, and NASCAR was one of the pioneers at the forefront of all this unprecedented change. Today, it’s now more common for an arena or event to have a company name’s as part of its name (e.g., Staples Center, Gillette Stadium, Capital One Orange Bowl, Bank of America 500).
One of the most popular partnerships in NASCAR history first took root in 1969 between driver Bobby Allison and Coca-Cola. Allison only drove the Coca-Cola-sponsored car in several races in 1969, but the partnership between the driver and the popular soft drink brand continued until 1975.
The iconic red-and-gold Coca-Cola paint scheme Allison drove during the 1970-74 seasons is often regarded as one of the most popular paint schemes in NASCAR history.
And why shouldn’t it be? Not only was it pretty to behold, but Allison was a force to be reckoned with in the car.
The paint scheme is so popular that the social media world was sent into a frenzy on August 3, when Tony Stewart announced from the NASCAR Hall of Fame that the paint scheme on his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet SS would honor Allison’s Coca-Cola paint scheme from 1970-74 in this year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500. The race will be held at Darlington Raceway over Labor Day weekend. Allison was even on hand for the unveiling of Stewart’s throwback car.
“I was made aware that this was going down and then (Coca-Cola) said ‘Well, we think this is going to expand a little bit. It’s going to include you a little bit along the way, if you’re willing,'” Allison told Splash ‘n Go. “And I said, ‘I’m certainly willing.’ And so they said, “Okay, we’re gonna look to have an unveiling and we’d like you there for that.’ So, I said, ‘Well, it sounds good to me.'”
In the four seasons that Allison’s car carried a paint scheme similar to Stewart’s Darlington ride, the 1983 NASCAR champion won 25 times. (Note: It would have been 26 if NASCAR hadn’t stripped him of a win during the 1971 season.)
Although his only title wouldn’t come until 11 years later, Allison’s 1972 season was his best statistically. He visited Victory Lane 10 times and finished runner-up in 12 races, while also capturing the pole 11 times. He won five of the races from the pole (Atlanta, Bristol [2x], Nashville, Darlington). Allison finished second to Richard Petty in the final points standings.
That season, Allison was so dominant that he led 30 of the 31 races, many times leading the most laps. He led more than half of the laps in 12 events.
Allison picked up three wins (Atlanta, Bristol, Hampton) during his first season of driving the Coca-Cola car that inspired Stewart’s throwback. His most dominant race of the season was at Bristol where he paced the field for 357 of the event’s 500 laps after starting 10th.
Allison finished second in the points standings to Bobby Isaac, 51 points back. At the time, it was the closest points margin between the top-two finishers in the final standings.
Officially, the member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2011 won 10 races during the 1971 season. If you ask Allison, he will claim the real number should be 11. Similarly, he and several others feel his total of career wins as a driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is 85, instead of 84, the number NASCAR has recorded in their annals.
The discrepancy stems from August 6 Myers Brothers 250 at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. Allison crossed the finish line first in the race, but was disqualified after the race when NASCAR determined that the Grand American series Ford Mustang he was driving was illegal in the premier series. Although the engine was smaller than the ones in cars typically found in NASCAR’s top series, the size meant it was lighter and allowed the car to be faster.
Allison drove this car in two races. The second event he drove this car in was two days later at International Raceway Park in Ona, W.V. He left with a second-place finish, which was left alone by NASCAR.
There were two things about the car Allison drove in these back-to-back events. First, instead of running his usual No. 12 or No. 22 during this period, the car carried the No. 49. Second, the hood featured a large black area on it near the windshield.
Despite the stripped win, Allison’s 1971 season was still productive with 10 wins and 31 top-10 finishes in only 42 starts. He won five consecutive races between May 30 and June 23 (Charlotte, Dover, Michigan, Riverside, Meyer), three of them coming after starting on the pole. Allison started the other two races from the second position. He led more than half the laps in 10 of the races and finished fourth in the points standings.
Perhaps Allison’s most dominant race of the 1971 season was in the September 6 Southern 500 at Darlington. He led 329 of the event’s 369 laps before eventually beating Richard Petty, who was a lap down, to the finish line.
In his fourth and final season (1973) running the paint scheme that was the inspiration for Stewart’s throwback car, Allison found Victory Lane twice (Riverside, North Wilkesboro). He competed in 27 of the scheduled 28 events that season.
Allison started the 1974 season driving a Coca-Cola car carrying a similar paint scheme to what his race car had run in the four previous seasons. He won one race (Richmond) that season before the paint scheme changed dramatically.
In the 19th race of the 30-race season, he started driving a red, white and blue American Motors Company Matador for Roger Penske. Although the new paint scheme was a big change from his usual red and gold design, Coca-Cola stayed onboard as sponsor.
Allison’s 1975 race car carried the same patriotic design on a limited schedule. The following season, Coca-Cola and Allison parted ways with CAM 2 signing on as primary sponsor for 1976 and 1977.
“I’m just really, really pumped about it because this was a special thing for me, and Coke was a special thing for me. Tony’s one of the guys who I really have enjoyed along the way,” Allison said about finding out that Stewart was going to bring the Coca-Cola car out of retirement.
Allison’s right about the Coca-Cola paint scheme being special … and not just to him.
For more background information, photos and videos of the cars you’ll see on track during Darlington’s throwback weekend, and the cars that inspired them, please visit Lionel Racing’s Throwback Timeline.