By Cole Cusumano
When Darlington Raceway’s Track President, Kerry Tharp, took over operations in 2016, he could only describe his first throwback weekend as both “awesome” and a “blur.” Serving as one of the most resounding displays of homage towards heritage and history in professional sports, the 63-year-old has taken the coveted festivities to new heights.
“The throwback weekend to me is like a reunion,” Tharp told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “It’s a reunion of fans, drivers, teams, sponsors, media — anybody associated with the sport. You celebrate the past, but you also celebrate the present and future. It’s kind of like a walk down memory lane. You get to relive some of the great moments of yesteryear.
“I think it’s a real cool opportunity for the sport to take one weekend of the year and honor its heroes, legends and other aspects of the sport to come and grow and become what it is today.”
Tharp credits his predecessor and current NASCAR Chief Track Property Officer, Chip Wile, with setting the foundation for the prestigious throwback weekend. Beginning in 2015 with the celebration of the 1970’s, themes were thought to have been the hallmark each year.
Obviously, teams can only do so much with just over seven decades of competition spanning since 1948. Last year, the mold was broken when the theme was honoring past Champions from all three National Series.
Now the seventh year of celebration, Tharp is loosening the reins and there will be no criteria for tributes in 2021.
“Our throwback this year doesn’t have a specific era attached to it like we had in the others ones, so I think that gives teams a better opportunity to be flexible with what they want to pay tribute to,” Tharp explained. “I think that the teams have done an excellent job in embracing this from start to finish. That makes it even that much more gratifying.”
This decision has enabled teams to think outside the box and get really creative. For instance, Alex Bowman and the No. 48 team will be honoring crew chief, Greg Ives, with a paint scheme replicating his late-model racing days. Guys like A.J. Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney are fielding cars identical to ones run early in their careers. And of course, you have tributes for legends ranging from Alan Kulwicki, Bill Elliott and Wendell Scott.
Tharp is also making strides to implement change that hearken throwback weekend to NASCAR’s esteemed heritage. For the first time since 2004, Darlington will be run in the Spring and all three National Series will participate in the festivities.
While COVID-19 restrictions are preventing Tharp and staff at Darlington from providing fans special events — like the dinner planned for all the past Champions in 2020 — the anticipation couldn’t be higher to celebrate 73 years of NASCAR.
“I think that once we get through this pandemic, hopefully the Spring event of 2022 can really give us an opportunity to pick up where we left off with the throwback weekend where we had a lot of Hall of Famers, legends, fan engagement, old race cars and things of that nature where we could really put on a terrific event for our fans in person.”
As for this throwback weekend, Tharp revealed the Wood Brothers would be bringing down one of David Pearson’s cars and Leonard Wood would be pacing the field along with Bill Elliott. We’ll have to wait and see what other surprises are in store at ‘The Lady in Black,’ but it’s sure to be another series of must-see television for motorsports enthusiasts around the globe.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has first honors of fielding tributes on Friday night in the LiftKits4Less.com 200 at 7:30 p.m. ET. The NASCAR Xfinity Series continues the celebration on the following day at 1 p.m. ET in the Steakhouse Elite 200, and the NASCAR Cup Series closes out throwback weekend with the Goodyear 400 at 3:30 p.m. — all on FS1.