Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5: Lessons To Be Learned from Darlington

1. There’s still a place for the past.

The success of returning the Southern 500 to Darlington on its rightful date plus the throwback theme is proof positive that the sport’s past is still relevant. It goes deeper than old paint schemes made new again; it reminds us of a time when the sport was more than just another broadcast on just another week. It’s a reminder of possibility and of an innocence we all once shared and somehow lost. It’s something you can’t get back, but the memory of just how very sweet those halcyon days was remains. Perhaps that’s the Lady in Black’s real legacy.

2. It was more than just the cars.

One of the best things about the weekend was seeing the crews getting involved in the throwback spirit.

Tony Stewart’s crew went full 70s:

So did TV analyst and former driver Dale Jarrett. You will never unsee this.

Germain Racing took it way back to racing’s earliest days.

But Wood Brothers Racing outdid them all. These throwback crew uniforms aren’t replicas—they’re the real thing, circa 1976.

With corporate sponsors creating a stiffness in the sport so often, it was refreshing to see teams and drivers embracing something a little silly and a lot of fun.

3. Looking time in the eye

If you are at all invested in the sport and its history, it’s impossible to be at Darlington and not feel the past surround you. But it’s also a reminder that time marches on, and that some of the sport’s legends are racing right now but won’t be forever. We had a sobering reminder of the fleeting nature of the sport and our time in it in Dale Earnhardt, Jr. this weekend as the 41-year-old fights his way back from a concussion. In the back of our minds, we had to realize that he might not make it back to the top of what’s increasingly becoming a younger man’s game.

If not for Earnhardt’s injury, Jeff Gordon would be nearly a year into retirement, and Tony Stewart will follow him into the sunset this fall. Jimmie Johnson is no longer the young gun, but the veteran, watching his chances at a seventh title dim a bit with each passing season. It’s impossible to ignore, when the past is all around, that these drivers will soon be a part of it.

4. And also seeing the future

For some, the sun begins to sink low on the horizon, for others, the dawn of their careers is just breaking, and the future of the sport, while bittersweet, is exciting. Young talent abounds; as seats are vacated, they will be filled with new personalities whose capabilities we’re just now seeing hints of. As it always has been, the sport is in good hands, and will be for years to come. The torch has been passed through many sets of calloused, capable hands, and will pass through many more before the last checkered flag flies.

5. Simplicity?

What weekends like this one at Darlington do is remind us all that sometimes, simple is better. Even as the Chase looms, this weekend was largely just about the race at hand and everything surrounding it. It wasn’t about special effects or made-for-TV moments. The event was about a last perfect summer night, some drivers, some fast cars, yesterday, today and tomorrow. If only what once was, could always be.

About the author

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Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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While it’s great that the Southern 500 is back in its rightful place, it should never have been moved in the first place, let alone taking over a decade to right this wrong.For a lot of fans, it was a case of too little, too late.
This single decision to move the Labor Day race from Darlington to a shopping mall with an adjoining race track in Southern California started the ball rolling on one ratings- and attendance-killing gimmick after another.
We’ve all chronicled what has gone wrong in recent years. This may have been the pivotal moment in the downward spiral. Tradition went out the window until NASCAR figured there was a way to capitalize on it.

Bill B

No, I think most would agree that switching to the chase championship format was the pivotal moment in the downward spiral. That put a lot of fans on the fence and then subsequent changes pushed many fans over the edge.


Southern 500, cookie cutters, chase-idiocy, North Wilkesboro, Car-of-Tomorrow, FOX, Rockingham, yankees, spec cars, federal reserve bubbles, …, who knows?. The fall & decline of nascrap is due to many factors. IMHO, all roads lead to nascar’s own King Alaric aka BZF).


I don’t know . On one hand its kinda nice to remember the old paint schemes and stuff from the old days. On the other hand it kind of seems a travesty to try to recreate what is gone.
Bottom line however is the racing was no different than it has been at other places this year. And it apparently made no difference as to the number who watched it on TV. Attendance maybe was a little better but certainly not a full house.
Maybe it should be taken for what it was. Another marketing ploy that depending on your viewpoint either worked or it didn’t.


I won a pair of the Coke pants at Flamboro Speedway in the program draw when Allison was there in his Coke Camaro. I also saw him at Pinecrest and Cayuga. I can still see him landing his plane behind Cayuga. Earnhardt helicoptered in to Cayuga from Hamilton Airport for the Busch North race.

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