Aric Almirola is detail-oriented enough to know how to make this “throwback weekend” at Darlington Raceway work best.
So Almirola, driver of Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Ford, isn’t wearing the ever-present cowboy hat that’s so often sitting atop the head of his team’s NASCAR Hall of Fame owner.
“He didn’t wear a cowboy hat in 1972,” Almirola said of Petty. “He started wearing it later on. I am trying to be traditional.”
Tradition is the theme for Sunday’s Darlington’s Southern 500, which returns to its Labor Day weekend date after 11 years. Most of the field’s cars will sport retro paint schemes and logos, harkening to NASCAR’s earlier days.
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Exhibit A could be Almirola’s car, which will look exactly like the iconic blue-and-red machine Petty drove to the 1972 championship.
11 Years since Southern 500 last ran on Labor Day weekend
“This really makes you realize how far our sport has come,” said Almirola, who also has grown a Fu Manchu-style mustache that’s similar to what Petty once sported. “It shows the appreciation of what all the teams and everybody has for the guys that came before us.”
The cars’ paint schemes (there were also several used in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Darlington) won’t be the only throwbacks. Drivers’ fire suits will have a retro look. Several crews will also wear outfits from those days. Advertising panels on the track’s walls will have old-school logos. Legendary broadcasters Ken Squier and Ned Jarrett (also once a top driver) will be part of NBC’s coverage. Goodyear has even brought back its logo from the 1970s and put it on the sidewalls of the tires.
Also, legendary drivers and NASCAR hall of famers including Bobby Allison, Junior Johnson, Rex White, Jack Ingram and Terry Labonte are expected to attend Sunday’s race.
Going retro for the weekend was the idea of Darlington president Chip Wile, who at first hoped that a handful of cars would take part. It has obviously worked out far better than that.
It’s a tribute. The sport can inject a history lesson with fun at the same time.
“They have the throwback jerseys in the NFL and the Hall of Fame game in basketball, and NASCAR didn’t have a platform, and this was the perfect place for it,” Wile told the Florence (S.C.) Morning News. “This is the Wrigley Field of NASCAR.”
Joey Logano, who won at Bristol on Aug. 22, will take a different concept into the race. His No. 22 Ford will sport the colors of the Team Penske car that won the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans (not a NASCAR race), driven by Mario, Michael and John Andretti.
“This whole weekend is really cool,” said Logano. “I can’t wait to see when we are all side by side starting the race, and everyone has their throwback paint schemes.”
Kurt Busch, who will start on the outside of the front row Sunday, appreciates what’s happening this weekend.
“It’s important to remember our past and acknowledge history, and to thank the pioneers that created the environment we have today,” Busch said. “It’s a tribute. The sport can inject a history lesson with fun at the same time.”
Most of the cars in the field in Sunday’s Southern 500 will have retro paint schemes:
Brad Keselowski (2): Pays homage to NASCAR hall-of-famer Bobby Allison’s white-and-red car.
Austin Dillon (3): Grandfather and team owner Richard Childress’s car.
Kevin Harvick (4): Mimics first can Budweiser produced.
Trevor Bayne (6): Mark Martin’s Roush Fenway Racing car in the late 1990s.
Sam Hornish Jr. (9): Longtime sponsor Winn-Dixie.
Danica Patrick (10): A tribute to Darlington’s track, known as the “Lady In Black.”
Denny Hamlin (11): Inspired by hall-of-famer Cale Yarborough’s car.
Tony Stewart (14): Honoring Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and introduction of 1978 Bass Tracker boat.
Clint Bowyer (15): Painted similarly to car driven in 1974 by the late Buddy Baker for owner Bud Moore.
Greg Biffle (16): Inspired by sponsor Ortho’s original logos.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17): Paint scheme in honor of hall-of-famer David Pearson.
Ryan Blaney (21): Honoring Wood Brothers Racing with special scheme.
Joey Logano (22): Colors inspired by Penske Racing car driven in 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans by Mario, Michael and John Andretti.
Jeb Burton (23): Honoring his father, Ward Burton, who won 2001 Southern 500.
Chase Elliott (25): Same design (different) colors as car driven by father Bill Elliott when he won 1985 Southern 500 and “Winston Million.”
J.J. Yeley (26): Designed by artist Sam Bass benefiting Charlotte-based Beds For Kids charity.
Mike Bliss (33): Number and green color the same as four-time Darlington winner Harry Gant.
Landon Cassill (40): Same scheme as car driven by Sterling Marlin at Kansas Speedway after Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks.
Kurt Busch (41): Scheme honoring Stewart-Haas Racing’s days as Haas CNC Racing.
Kyle Larson (42): The classic Mello-Yello car.
Aric Almirola (43): Same scheme and number as iconic car driven by team owner Richard Petty.
Michael Annett (46): Tribute to 1970 Pilot Flying J car.
Jimmie Johnson (88): Lowe’s Home Improvement logo used in 1940s and ’50s.
David Ragan (55): Honoring red-and-white scheme used by father Ken Ragan in 1987.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88): Valvoline scheme used in early 1980s by Cale Yarborough, Ron Bouchard, Neil Bonnett and Buddy Baker.