The best news of the off-season so far is that Darlington Raceway will host another throwback bash for the running of the Bojangles’ Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-4 2016.
Darlington is labeling the 2016 weekend Tradition Continues, with the track set to honor the 1975-84 era of the sport. During that decade, the NASCAR Premier Series champions were Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison and Terry Labonte.
Collectively, those six drivers alone won 23 NASCAR championships in what is now known as the Sprint Cup Series, and a staggering 549 races, the equivalent of more than 15 full seasons of events. All but Labonte are already members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and Labonte will be inducted into the Class of 2016.
That Darlington is repeating the throwback weekend is no surprise. The inaugural event this year was a smash hit that delighted fans, teams and the media alike. The Darlington throwback weekend was probably the best idea any track came up with all season long. It was just about perfect.
All told 32 teams ran throwback paint schemes this year, with some drivers going as far as growing hair, beards and sideburns to look period-correct. It was tremendous fun. At a time when social-media is routinely filled with bile and negativity, nobody had a bad word to say about the Darlington weekend.
One of the big keys was that race team sponsors got behind the effort in a big way.
Budweiser, for example, used the gold color that debuted in 1936 on Kevin Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
Richard Petty Motorsports brought back the Petty blue/STP Day-Glo red scheme Petty himself immortalized in the 1970s and ’80s. Valvoline jumped on board to sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr. with a Cale Yarborough retro scheme.
Fans voted Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Mello Yello Days of Thunder car as the most popular paint scheme, an even NASCAR and Goodyear brought out retro looks for the event. The track sold pimento cheese sandwiches and fried green tomatoes for those with throwback hunger pangs.
Like I said, the whole weekend was darn near perfect. Two things, though: 1. Given what a great event this was last year, you better get your tickets early, before they’re all gone. Track officials said ticket renewals will be mailed next month and this almost certainly will sell out. 2. Is there anyone of you readers who can make me a leisure suit between now and September? Because I’m sure not going to miss this race.