No doubt about it, the Southern 500 was a magical night.
From the Hall of Famer’s riding around the track with current stars, to the NBC sound clip, to Ken Squier and the Jarrett boys calling more than a few laps, so much gathered together to make it possibly the best day of racing the Sprint Cup has enjoyed in 2015. I’m not going to say it was like it used to be, for it wasn’t. However, it was special.
First and foremost, the race finally returned to its traditional date—running on Labor Day weekend. If NASCAR had chosen to move the race around on its schedule all through the 70’s and 80’s, it could’ve been said that the fans were just being picky. But, no. Our glorified sanctioning body decided to make the move after more than 40 years of celebration at the same time of year in the same place. That had been a bad idea. Now it was fixed and a fine reason for celebration.
Second, the promotions department at The Lady in Black decided to embrace their history and run the Throwback Weekend. We hadn’t even put the cars on the track yet and there was so much to talk about and see. Plaid suits and champions from days gone-by and even a buy-in from NASCAR’s media partners added to the festival feeling. The Mean Joe Green Coca-cola ad still grabs me forty years later, and I literally shook my head each time the peacock chimed.
Hall of Fame competitors were invited to the track for the day. We usually only get to see the likes of Junior Johnson and Dale Inman when they’re all dressed up and being inducted. Besides the already pervasive atmosphere of nostalgia, now we had the people responsible for so many of our favorite Darlington memories sharing pre-race jitters with the rest of the crowd. And they rode around during opening ceremonies with current day competitors!
All this hoop-la occurred before we even managed the grid walk. Mmmm, all those paint jobs. As the field motored through their pace laps I could not help but wiggle in my seat as Richard Petty’s No. 43 cruised through the corner. I know it wasn’t really his car, but only one machine will ever reflect the lights off its hood like that. It belongs to the King. There were so many more, I can’t name them all here. It’s worth your time to peruse Jayski’s Throwback page http://www.jayski.com/news/schemes/story/_/page/2015-NASCAR-Darlington-Throwback-Paint-Schemes to truly appreciate how much of our sport’s heart went into this weekend. It’s humbling to understand that just about every team put thought and appreciation into this one special night.
And finally, the green flag dropped. Guess what? The sand hills of South Carolina have returned to one of our favorite tracks. Tires wore out instantly. Drivers struggled to keep their cars pointed in the right direction. We had us a good race! Somehow, The Lady in Black had shrugged off her cookie-cutter persona that arrived after her repave and donned the grey cape that has eaten up stock cars for the past sixty years.
The Throwback Weekend was a success for a myriad of reasons, none of them had much to do with who won or who earned their way into the Chase. I did not care one iota Sunday night. All that mattered was black stripes smudged all over the red and white track walls, fenders dented and Ken Squier talked me through the best hour of racing we’ve been treated to in a very long time.
Next year when we return to this tiny town in the heart of the South, we shall be talking again about all those moments that have added to her museum under the backstretch grandstands. Only now we’ll remember the Throwback Weekend as part of it. Magic. Sheer magic.
2000 Monte Carlo 400
Jeff Gordon notched his 52nd win at Richmond that year. But look who was chasing him to the finish! Dale Earnhardt Sr. had pitted late in the race for four tires and charged through the field, making up positions and points as he hunted Gordon down. Earnhardt would end up 2nd in the points for the season, 268 behind Bobby Labonte. The year 2000 I was wondering once again if Senior’s mojo had returned, if he had one more championship in him. We will never know.
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