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Curator's Corner / NASCAR 75th Anniversary

Throwback Paint Schemes from the First Throwback

In 2015, Darlington Raceway and NASCAR took a huge gamble by making the Southern 500 a Throwback Weekend. The results were spectacular.

Now heading into its ninth year, Darlington Raceway’s Throwback Weekend is no longer a novelty, even though it remains one of most engaging weekends on the NASCAR circuit, marrying the sport’s oldest superspeedway with retro looks for the teams and their cars.

When Throwback Weekend was launched in 2015, it was nothing short of revolutionary. The brainchild of NASCAR executive Daryl Wolfe and then Darlington President Chip Wile, the first Throwback Weekend was 18 months in the making, as NASCAR and track executives created focus groups with industry stakeholders and held numerous individual meetings with teams and sponsors to get buy-in for the idea.

It was a Herculean effort, and the results were impressive: Darlington went from being another race on the schedule to an event filled with fun and some much-needed change of pace to highlight the weekend. Suddenly, the mood at Darlington was much different as teams, sponsors and fans alike focused on the sport’s history for the weekend.

With that thought in mind, here’s a throwback to 2015 and some of our favorite paint schemes from the very first Darlington Throwback Weekend.

Aric Almirola’s No. 43 Ford was fittingly decked out in Petty Blue and STP Day-Glo Red. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

One of the most iconic paint schemes in NASCAR history traces its roots back to 1972, when automotive lubricant STP first sponsored Hall of Famer Richard Petty’s (Class of 2010) No. 43 Dodge. At the first Darlington Throwback Weekend, team owner Petty brought back the Petty Blue/STP Day-Glo Red colors for Aric Almirola’s No. 43 Ford. Almirola even grew a Fu Manchu mustache like “The King” wore in 1972.

Kyle Petty (left) drove some exhibition laps in a Wood Brothers Racing 1972 Mercury prepared by Leonard Wood. Photo courtesy of Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images

The Pettys of North Carolina and the Woods of Virginia are two families who can trace their racing roots to the earliest days of NASCAR. Prior to qualifying for the 2015 Southern 500, the Wood Brothers Racing team brought out a 1972 Mercury like the one David Pearson (Class of 2011) won six races with in only 17 starts in 1972. Crew chief Leonard Wood (Class of 2013) supervised while Kyle Petty drove some exhibition laps around the historic South Carolina track.

Clint Bowyer’s Toyota paid homage to the recently departed Buddy Baker. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

A somber but heartfelt tribute to the late Buddy Baker (Class of 2020) was paid by Clint Bowyer, who drove a Toyota with a paint scheme similar to what Baker raced with when he drove for Bud Moore (Class of 2011) in the mid-1970s. Baker, who passed away less than a month before the 2015 race, won the 1970 Southern 500 and the spring Darlington race in 1971.

Kasey Kahne’s crew worked on his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in the Darlington garage. Photo courtesy of Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Hall of Famer Rick Hendrick (Class of 2017) launched his NASCAR team in 1984, originally calling it All-Star Racing. The plan was for Richard Petty (Class of 2010) to drive and country music superstar Kenny Rogers to be a co-owner. The plan never came to fruition, though, and Hendrick hired Geoff Bodine, who won the team’s first race at Martinsville Speedway in 1984. At Darlington, Kasey Kahne drove a Bodine throwback scheme.

Driving for Chip Ganassi, Kyle Larson flew Mello Yello colors at Darlington. Photo courtesy of Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images

When Kyle Petty drove for car owner Felix Sabates in the early 1990s, one of his most popular paint schemes on his No. 42 Pontiac was that of soft drink sponsor Mello Yello. At Darlington in 2015, team owner Chip Ganassi reprised the Mello Yello look for driver Kyle Larson on his No. 42 Chevrolet.

At Darlington in 2015, Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet featured Budweiser’s original can color from 1936. Photo courtesy of Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images

Getting sponsor buy-in was critical to the success of Darlington’s Throwback Weekend. One of the sponsors that eagerly embraced the concept early on was Anheuser-Busch, who sponsored Kevin Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet through its Budweiser brand. At Darlington, Harvick’s car was painted in the same shade of gold that Budweiser used on its first beer cans, which debuted in 1936.

Austin Dillon’s paint scheme was based on one his grandfather raced in the mid-1970s. Photo courtesy of Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images

You might say Austin Dillon’s 2015 paint scheme was a case of “like Paw-Paw, like grandson.” Paw-Paw, of course, is Hall of Famer Richard Childress (2017), who also is Dillon’s grandfather. In the 1970s, Childress drove his own No. 3 Chevrolets, which frequently featured white paint with red trim. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet carried similar colors for the first Darlington Throwback Weekend.

Three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Cale Yarborough was honored by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Photo courtesy of Jerry Markland/Getty Images

NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Class of 2021) is a dedicated follower of the sport’s history and has a deep appreciation of the racers that came before him. For the first Darlington Throwback Weekend, Earnhardt’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet carried the same white, blue and red scheme that Cale Yarborough (Class of 2012) raced with when he drove for car owner M.C. Anderson in the early 1980s.

Josh Wise attempted to qualify for the Southern 500 in this Tide-inspired ride. Photo courtesy of Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

In auto racing, not every story has a happy ending. Longtime NASCAR sponsor Tide’s orange-and-white colors were among the most recognizable in the sport, having been used by Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip (2012) and Matt Kenseth (2023), plus Ricky Rudd and Ricky Craven. One of the most attractive throwbacks at Darlington in 2015 was Josh Wise’s Tide-inspired scheme. Alas, Wise was one of three drivers who failed to qualify for the race.

At Darlington, telecommunications company Arris sponsored the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driven by Carl Edwards. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

While the vast majority of the 43 cars that competed in the 2015 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway carried throwback paint schemes, a few did not, including the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driven by Carl Edwards, who wound up winning the race and the $285,225 share of the purse that went with the victory.

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

Tom is the Curatorial Affairs Manager at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For more than 25 years, he has been part of the NASCAR media industry.

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