By Jason Schultz / @NASCARJason – One of the most cherished traditions in NASCAR returns this weekend. For the first time since 2003, the Southern 500 will take place on Labor Day weekend.
With the event nearing, anticipation continues to build as Sunday’s race has the potential to be one of the most exciting in 2015.
From the throwback paint schemes to broadcast elements that will be used on September 6th, the entire sport is backing Darlington Raceway’s quest to honor tradition.
Track president Chip Wile is finally seeing his vision turn into reality. He went in-depth on the entire project with Kelley Earnhardt on Dirty Mo Radio’s Fast Lane Family last week, discussing all aspects that will be different and special for the race.
The event has been years in the making. It all began with NASCAR announcing the South Carolina raceway would regain its coveted place on the schedule on Labor Day weekend. “Getting Labor Day back was a huge win for our community,” said Wile.
The date has been shared by Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway over the last 11 years. While those facilities tried to recreate the atmosphere Darlington held for decades, they were unable to do so.
When coming up with the idea, Wile believed the sport needed a place to honor tradition, “there’s so much history in the sport and we needed a place to celebrate it.”
When Wile presented the idea to the industry, he expected it to be a work in progress. The forecast was for eight teams to run throwback paint schemes in the first year. Now, over 30 will sport a retro look. Each design carries a special story, unique to the sport and will draw together the past, present, and future.
Those who helped create the speedway’s history will be on hand for the Bojangles’ Southern 500. The track has invited 14 NASCAR Hall of Famers to the grounds to partake in a celebration of their efforts.
Another tradition returning is the classic Southern 500 parade. It will take place following the XFINITY Series event on Saturday, building excitement for the following night’s race.
The food menu will also take a step back in history. Wile searched through old track notes and found classic menu items from the 1970s which include pimento cheese sandwiches, “one of the things people remember about coming to the Southern 500 in the early 70’s was pimento cheese.”
Other items for sale include fried green tomatoes and sausage perlo, all of which will feature throwback prices.
In the end, the track had one goal, “we’re trying to be authentic.” With the various elements in place for the weekend, an accurate portrayal of the past has been achieved
This is a tradition the track hopes to continue and improve going forward saying, “this is a five to seven year platform,” and “we wanted to build year one a really nice foundation that we can build on year after year.”
In addition to the track’s efforts, NBC will contribute to the throwback elements of the weekend. They will provide a broadcast featuring various aspects reflecting the 1970s.
Among them include the broadcasters who will dress in authentic clothing. The network will also work with graphics used from many years ago to create a genuine throwback feel.
The broadcast itself will sound as if it’s from decades ago at one point in the race. Legendary broadcasters Ken Squier, Ned Jarrett, and Dale Jarrett will step into the booth to call a portion of the action.
While the controllable aspects including the tires will carry a retro look, the racing will be unpredictable.
It will be the second race of the season using the highly-praised low-downforce package. What differs this weekend compared to the Kentucky Speedway event is Goodyear brought a package specific tire.
This has many confident the event will bring back the thrills it used to produce, including NBC analyst Jeff Burton.
“Not only will we get a throwback weekend with paint schemes and all those kind of things, but from all the crew chiefs and drivers I’ve talked to we’re going to get a throwback weekend, too, in terms of the importance of tires and pit stops, so we could have a true Darlington Southern 500.”
A perfect storm brews for NASCAR on Sunday. With excitement peaking because the sport is reliving the history of the Southern 500; the race to the Chase for the Sprint Cup is heating up; and racing is back for the first time since last April in Darlington – it’s shaping up to be one of the most thrilling events of the season.
Add in the new rules package and tire combination that has the chance to produce the kind of competition drivers have been wanting to see for years, and there is plenty to look forward to on Sunday night.
Many throughout the industry have praised NASCAR’s move bringing Darlington back to Labor Day. Ken Squier summed the move up best saying, “I think this is perhaps the best move that NASCAR has made in a decade.”
Coverage of the Bojangles’ Southern 500 will begin at 7 PM ET on NBC.
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