The Bojangles’ Southern 500 may still be a little less than five months away, but the competition has already started.
By the time the green flag flies on September 4 at Darlington Raceway, a winner may have already been declared in one of the best and closest competitions (outside of on-track action) NASCAR has seen in years.
What ever are we talking about?
If you’ve been anywhere near social media over the past couple days and follow any number of drivers, teams, media members or sponsors affiliated with the sport, you’ve probably come across several paint scheme announcements that carry just a touch of nostalgia. Many of these throwback paint schemes will see on-track action over Labor Day weekend in the upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington (or what many may prefer to call “The Track Too Tough to Tame” or “The Lady in Black”).
Last year’s Darlington race included multiple cars adorned with tributes to or designs inspired by older paint schemes. This year when the “Tradition Continues,” there promises to be more of the same — only bigger and better. More cars are scheduled to participate this season; therefore, there will be more designs inspired by paint schemes of yesteryear or nostalgic sponsor logos.
Starting last week, NASCAR teams, drivers and sponsors began releasing special paint schemes for Darlington’s 2016 throwback program.
The first throwback scheme released was Regan Smith’s No. 7 Nikko Road Rippers Chevrolet SS, which was inspired by Alan Kulwicki’s championship-winning 1992 No. 7 Hooters Ford.
The competition, however, kicked into high gear this week with the announcement of three more paint schemes honoring legendary drivers and their historic cars.
One of the three releases was Wednesday’s announcement that Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Chevrolet SS would don a paint scheme mimicking Buddy Baker’s “Gray Ghost” from the early 1980s.
In the brief announcements prior to the paint scheme’s unveiling, Dale Jr. mentioned that the throwback program had created sort of a competition between the teams, drivers and sponsors to see who could come up with the best design. In typical NASCAR fashion where everyone is ultra-competitive, this year’s throwback program is bringing out people’s competitiveness and everyone wants to one-up each other. But it’s all in fun.
“Everyone has had a year to think about it and can come with so much creativity,” Earnhardt stated. “It was so much fun walking through the garage area last year. Everybody can celebrate the history of the sport together in one week.”
Earnhardt has mentioned several times in the past that his favorite historic paint scheme was Baker’s “Gray Ghost,” so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to many when his throwback scheme was revealed.
Baker won the 1980 Daytona 500 in the Gray Ghost after posting a record average speed of 177.602 mph that still stands today. Several teams complained that Baker had an unfair advantage because the car’s silver and gray design blended into the track’s asphalt.
Earlier in the week, Roush Fenway Racing, Fastenal and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. unveiled the throwback paint scheme that the No. 17 Ford Fusion would carry during the Bojangles’ Southern 500. Stenhouse’s predominantly orange and white is modeled after Darrell Waltrip’s No. 17 Terminal Transport car that he drove to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win on May 10, 1975.
The car that inspired the paint scheme on Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Busch Beer Chevrolet SS competed in one of the most important races in NASCAR history. On Thursday afternoon, Stewart-Haas Racing, along with Busch Beer and Harvick, announced that the Busch Beer car that Cale Yarborough drove in the 1979 Daytona 500 was the inspiration for Harvick’s Darlington ride.
With most of the eastern part of the U.S. confined to their homes because of a huge snowstorm, millions tuned in to watch the race, which changed the perception of the sport. Not only was the racing great, but those watching were treated to a boxing match. Yarborough was one of the three participants in the last-lap brawl. The competitive nature of the race and the impromptu
altercation thrust NASCAR® into the spotlight.
Other drivers who have had their special Darlington paint schemes released recently are: Danica Patrick (Nature’s Bakery), Kurt Busch (Haas Automation/Monster Energy) and Denny Hamlin (Sport Clips).
For the drivers, competition doesn’t just occur on the track. It’s part of their DNA … it’s who they are. So, it’s only natural if some of the drivers see the throwback paint scheme program as a competition to. It hopefully will just parlay to better competition on track when the cars take the green flag.