From Memory Lane to Victory Lane, the Southern 500 is history in motion

From Memory Lane to Victory Lane, the Southern 500 is history in motion
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

DARLINGTON, S.C.—The Bojangles’ Southern 500 provides one of NASCAR’s best teaching moments.

Short of a trip to the Hall of Fame in Charlotte, fans and competitors alike can take a stroll down Memory Lane with cars carrying vintage liveries and teams sporting uniforms from bygone eras at one of motorsports most prestigious venues—Darlington Raceway.

The weekend culminates with the top drivers in stock cars battling over 367 laps from day into night at the Track too Tough to Tame.

Sunday’s polesitter, William Byron, 21, wasn’t even born when the movie “Days of Thunder”—the inspiration for the No. 24 City Chevrolet’s paint scheme—was produced in and around the racing beat in the late ‘80s.

“It’s been really cool for us,” Byron said. “How the Days of Thunder started for us was obviously with City Chevrolet and Mr. (Rick) Hendrick. That makes perfect sense. But Chad (Knaus, crew chief) actually had a movie night for all the team guys back in April and we watched Days of Thunder. It was really cool.

“It’s a pretty new team and to just kind of have that experience together, being able to remember the movie pretty clearly this weekend, and kind of go through it at the track has been pretty neat. Everything has gone smooth for us so far this weekend, and hopefully that continues into the race. The race is ultimately what matters, but qualifying is a good start, especially having the number one pit stall.”

Byron’s teammate, Alex Bowman, has embraced his inner Tim Richmond leading up to the throwback weekend. His candy apple red and gold No. 88 Chevy is a tribute to Richmond, Bowman’s favorite racer. Richmond, who passed away 30 years ago last month, earned nine wins for Hendrick Motorsports behind the wheel of the No. 25 Folger’s Chevy, including a victory in the 1986 Southern 500. Throughout the week, Bowman has taken the experience up a notch on social media.

“When I have the wig, mustache, aviators and Tim Richmond fire suit, I’m just not me anymore,” Bowman said with a laugh. “I guess in character would be the best way to say that. It took me a minute, for sure, during the photo shoot. I was like, ‘Man this is awkward,’ but it was pretty cool.

“I’d say he’s probably the polar opposite of me in a lot of ways, but it’s been interesting to learn more about him and see all the cool stuff he drove.”

Bubba Wallace also had the opportunity gain a deeper understanding of the driver and the cause he’s representing in the No. 43 Victory Junction Camp Chevrolet honoring Adam Petty. The fourth-generation driver lost his life in a racing accident at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2000, two months shy of his 20th birthday. Four years later, his dream of providing a camp for children with chronic illnesses and serious medical conditions came to fruition.

“Seeing what Victory Junction meant to him and his vision of it coming to life is really special,” Wallace said. “Our car is the best looking one in the garage; that’s just from fans telling me that. It’s cool to be able to represent Victory Junction, Adam Petty, Kyle Petty, the whole Petty family, and the vision he was able to start 15 years ago. Seeing what it is now is truly special.


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