NASCAR needed “Throwback Weekend,” and Darlington is the only place it could happen.
Only four years after the concept was brought up, debated, shot down and finally resurrected, the idea to honor stock-car racing’s past has become a full-blown success.
On the first full weekend of college football, racing actually has a foothold for attention.
And if Mother Nature gets involved, we might end up running the Southern 500 on Labor Day, the way we used to.
The idea for the throwback weekend was a bit like the idea for the track itself. It was, on the one hand, an impossible dream to think everything could come together for the South’s first super-speedway to be built in the middle of nowhere and be successful.
The planning for it didn’t take all that much inspiration. Harold Brasington bought 70 acres of cotton and peanut fields from Darlington farmer Sherman Ramsey, who insisted the track be built so that it wouldn’t disturb his minnow pond.
The egg-shaped oval is still here, and so is Ramsey’s Pond. For that matter, so are the cotton and peanut fields and dirt roads that run from the speedway to the very heart of stock-car racing.
If you’ve never been to a race in your life, you need to go to this one. Just don’t stay in the infield on Saturday night.
The throwback paint designs each year are loosely based on a theme, this year’s being the early ‘90s, when Richard Petty retired and Jeff Gordon burst onto the scene to challenge Dale Earnhardt and the handful of future hall of famers still in their prime.
But there are no rules. Teams show up in paint schemes honoring everything from street-stock cars of the 60s to ARCA cars of the 80s. It’s up to the drivers, the teams and the sponsors.
The sponsors were the last obstacle to making the concept work. The push-back from some of the teams was over contracts with companies who wanted their unadorned brand splashed across the hoods and fenders of the cars.
It took a fair amount of arm-twisting and promises from the teams to get the the marketing people to buy into the idea that it would work if they’d just agree to disagree for one weekend out of the year.
It was a bit like Brasington and Ramsey all those years ago to agree to build the track and leave the fields and farm pond intact.
The original idea and the original promise survive to this day because the heart of stock-car racing was, and is, still pure. It’s all the noise around it that has caused all the heart-burn through the years.
“Throwback Weekend” is here, and it comes with full buy-in from the teams, the sponsors, NASCAR and the fans.
It also comes with a minnow pond. And maybe a hurricane.