NASCAR, Darlington Throw It Back
by Tom Jensen May 03, 2021
This week’s Top-10 List looks at the favorite paint schemes of NASCAR Hall of Famers who won at least 50 premier series races.
It’s time for Throwback Weekend at Darlington Raceway, when teams break out a veritable rainbow of special paint schemes to pay tribute to the racers who originally carried those colors.
And while there doubtless will be some magnificent tributes this weekend, NASCAR Hall of Fame Curator Dan Simone and I decided to take a deep dive back in time to find the inspirations for some of the paint schemes that you’ll see at Darlington this weekend.
The criterion was simple: Take all Hall of Fame drivers who won at least 50 races and pick one great paint scheme from each. Because 11 Hall of Famers have won at least 50 races, this week’s Top-10 List features 11 drivers, but adding one more cool paint scheme is never an issue for us.
10. Junior Johnson, 50 race wins
Sometimes, simple is better. In 1963, NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Junior Johnson (2010) drove for car owner Ray Fox in a white No. 3 Chevrolet Impala, which was famously powered by a 427-cubic-inch V-8 known as the “Mystery Motor.” In 1963, Johnson won seven races in this car, including the National 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and a 400-miler at Atlanta International Raceway (now Atlanta Motor Speedway).
10. Ned Jarrett, 50
Statistically, the 1964 season was one of the best-ever for Ned Jarrett (2011), who won a career-high 15 races and tied his single-season bests in poles, with 9, and top-10 finishes with 45. The car we selected for this feature, Jarrett’s Bondy Long-owned 1964 Ford Galaxie, is on display in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Great Hall as part of our new exhibit, “A Legendary Decade: The First 50 Inductees.”
9. Lee Petty, 54
The Petty Enterprises race team Lee Petty (2011) founded was known for its Petty Blue colors, but in 1956, the patriarch of the Petty family drove a white-over-orange Dodge, because that was the car shipped to him by the automaker. In the first 11 years of the premier series dating back to 1949, Petty never finished worse than fourth in points. He was also NASCAR’s first three-time premier series champion.
8. Rusty Wallace, 55
An absolute fan favorite was the black-and-gold Miller Genuine Draft paint scheme Rusty Wallace (2013) carried with Blue Max Racing in 1990 and Team Penske from 1991-96. In 1997, Penske and Wallace switched from the black-and-gold look to Miller Lite’s blue-and-white colors, a move that generated huge debate among Wallace’s large fan base. Wallace won 30 races with MGD colors.
7. Dale Earnhardt, 76
Although the blue-and-yellow Wrangler colors Dale Earnhardt’s (2010) No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets carried from 1984-87 were sharp, he will forever be remembered for the black GM Goodwrench scheme he raced from 1988 on. With this basic paint scheme, Earnhardt won four of his seven premier series championships and 45 races.
6. Cale Yarborough, 83
One of the toughest racers ever, Cale Yarborough (2012) was the first driver to win three consecutive premier series championships. For this exercise, we choose Yarborough’s Oldsmobile that he drove to his third title in a row in 1978. That actual car is on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of our “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions” exhibit, which features 18 championship-winning cars.
4. Darrell Waltrip, 84
No doubt about it, Darrell Waltrip (2012) had a lot of colorful paint schemes: “Bertha,” his famous Gatorade-sponsored mid-1970s Chevrolet Monte Carlo, his Junior Johnson-owned 1981 Mountain Dew Buick and his “Tide Ride” Chevrolet that he won the 1989 Daytona in. But for this list, we’ve got take the 1997 chrome car. It wasn’t Waltrip’s most successful car – he never won a race with it – but it certainly was his flashiest.
4. Bobby Allison, 84
In some respects, Bobby Allison (2011) was the hardest to select a car for, because he drove for so many great owners and teams. But in the end, the choice was clear: We had to pick one of Allison’s Roger Penske (2019)-owned AMC Matadors, which he campaigned only for seven races in 1974 and 19 more in the 1975 campaign. Allison won one race in the ungainly Matador in ’74, and then swept both Darlington races, the highlights of his three-win ’75 season.
3. Jeff Gordon, 93
Sure, Jeff Gordon (2019) was a four-time champion who posted a ton of records in his career. But both in and out of the car, Gordon was so much more than that, a transformational figure who helped fuel NASCAR’s explosive growth in the late 1990s. In this case, selecting the “Rainbow Warriors” paint scheme he began his career with and won three titles with was an easy call.
2. David Pearson, 105
This one was one of the easiest choices on this list. Sure, David Pearson (2011), won championships with Cotton Owens (2013) in 1966 and Holman-Moody Racing in 1968-69. But his real run of dominance came driving the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Mercury in 1972-73, a period in which he won 18 races in just 37 starts. Team founder Glen Wood (2012), crew chief and engine builder Leonard Wood (2013) and Pearson created a formidable team.
1. Richard Petty, 200
In all of NASCAR history, the single most recognizable paint color would almost certainly be Petty Blue, a hue that a young Richard Petty (2010) came up by combining half-full cans of blue paint and white paint. But the visuals went to a whole new level in 1972, when new sponsor STP came aboard, bringing with it its Day-Glo Red colors, which looked especially sharp as the years went by.