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NASCAR Legends Take In Throwback Weekend

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DARLINGTON, S.C. – Although it seems nearly impossible, NASCAR dove deeper into the past – and those who were there are grateful for the effort to bring the sport’s history back to life.

The historic Darlington Raceway is the site of the sport’s toughest race, the Southern 500. The track withstood numerous schedule changes, additional dates, and alterations to the sport. However, former president Chip Wile knew how much the venue – The Track Too Tough To Tame – added to NASCAR. He wanted to differentiate its date from the other 35 races. When NASCAR decided to move Darlington back to its coveted Labor Day slot, it made the idea even better.

“We were planning on doing this before the announcement moving it back to Labor Day weekend. I think that certainly helped our cause,” Wile told POPULAR SPEED. “It’s great to see year two, people really embracing what we’re doing, the teams getting behind it and the industry getting behind it. The reason this program is so successful is because everyone’s getting behind it.”

The throwback theme gained significant momentum after its first execution; 38 out of 40 Sprint Cup Series cars emulate prior paint schemes, while 14 XFINITY Series machines joined the celebration. Stylized firesuits for drivers and crew members compliment their circa 1970s Fu Manchus and sideburns.

While Wile and various drivers enjoy the tributes and fanfare, it’s more about honor for those who drove and called those paint schemes.

Team owner and former driver Richard Childress’ Kansas Jack scheme adorns Michael McDowell’s Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet. When asked about the weekend as a whole, the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee believes it puts the sport’s history in perspective for younger fans.

“With a lot of the fans that didn’t realize what went on back in the day, they understand it now,” Childress said. “When they see these cars, some of the paint schemes, and these great champions, it’s really cool.”

Well-known Motor Racing Network announcer Ken Squier will call part of the race on NBC’s broadcast, teaming up with Ned and Dale Jarrett for the second consecutive year. After all these years, it is a treat for Squier to call such a prestigious event.

“It’s an honor to be part of it because it has so much significance – Labor Day. Darlington. This race has a character of its own,” Squier said. “It had to go away for a few years for people to understand the consequence of it and how much it meant to the whole sport.”

Squier is impressed with the retro cars. They are so similar to the originals that, Squier claims, it is difficult to announce the running order.

He said, “Having done this for several years – since the sixties, I remember those numbers from three or four different cars. Then, when they added those paint schemes, I was sure the No. 17 wasn’t Stenhouse, I knew it was Pearson. You got to be on your toes.”

For legendary crew chief and car owner Leonard Wood, the throwback theme enables him to see the fruits of his labor – even after all these years.

“I was telling somebody when you come down here for the Southern 500, there was just so much excitement built up for the race, so much energy. Everybody wanted to win the Southern 500. It’s a really tough track to win on, and the heart of it is, the more hard it is to win something, the more special it makes it,” he said, adding, “To come back and bring back that era makes you feel how rewarding the older days really were.”

Despite a difficult race on the horizon, the weekend at Darlington Raceway provides a glimpse into the yesteryears that much of the current fan base missed out on. It allows them to understand the good ole days – and its impact the drivers who continue to rise. When compared to those times, it is obvious the sport has undergone many changes and that it will continue to grow. Paying homage to those who built the sport is critical and will help NASCAR’s bright future.

After all, moving forward requires knowledge of where the sport has previously been.

“It really makes a difference,” Squier said, adding, “But there’s nothing but flourish and growth from here.”

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

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Kristen Schneider

Kristen Schneider is a Junior at the University of South Carolina, where she majors in Broadcast Journalism and minors in Sport and Entertainment Management. Since 2012, Schneider has contributed NASCAR content to numerous sites and internet radio shows. She’s been with POPULAR SPEED since its inception in August 2013, and she was promoted to contributor in November 2015. She plans on using her degree to work within the NASCAR industry. Schneider is an Ohio native who currently lives in Columbia, South Carolina.