DARLINGTON, S.C. — The Tide Ride, the Busch Beer car and the bright red Coca-Cola machine. All locked in fans minds and NASCAR history — and all back on display at Darlington Raceway's latest throwback weekend.
Sprint Cup drivers and teams have gone all out to dress up for the Southern 500 on Sunday night, pulling out beloved paint schemes to honor stock car racing's colorful, vibrant past.
"I've got my helmet ready to throw," joked defending Darlington winner Carl Edwards, who'll sport a tribute to retiring — and fiery — Tony Stewart and his Home Depot car from the three-time series champ's rookie season in 1999.
Matt Kenseth, Edwards' teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, will bring back the Tide car that was driven to victory lane 20 times between 1987 and 2006 by icons like Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd and Ricky Craven.
Stewart will drive the red-and-gold Coca-Cola car patterned like the one Bobby Allison steered to victory at the Southern 500 in 1971 and 1972.
Stewart said he's been backed by the beverage company for some time and has taken part in many unique promotions on their behalf. "But this is definitely my favorite," said Stewart, who'll make his final start at Darlington.
In all, 36 of 40 race teams will feature some type of paint scheme to honor NASCAR's past, said Darlington president Kerry Tharp.
"It's something everyone has wanted to do," said Tharp, named to his post in June.
No matter the schemes, expect the same contenders to run up front at the track "Too Tough To Tame."
Kevin Harvick, who won two weeks ago at Bristol, starts up front as the field was lined up by owner's points. Hurricane Hermine swamped through South Carolina on Friday to wipe out all track activities. NASCAR eliminated Saturday qualifying to give teams two full practices.
Take plenty of pictures of the throwback cars before they hit the track because many will look like machines destined for the junkyard after a few laps on NASCAR's oldest superspeedway.
"It is pretty edgy," said Jamie McMurray, who holds the 16th and final spot in the Sprint Cup championship Chase. "When you turn down the hill off of turn two, sensational-wise, it's one of the fastest corners in our sport. Every lap feels like you're going to wreck."
McMurray's No. 1 Chevrolet honors Bill Elliott's blue McDonald's ride with its "Mac Tonight" tagline.
McMurray joked he was jealous last year when Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson drove a "Mello Yello" themed car at Darlington.
Larson took things to another level with a curly, black wig and mustache reminiscent of 1970s-era Kyle Petty, who drove that race fan favorite.
"It is cool to get to have that on your car and be a part of what Darlington has put together," McMurray said.
Darlington's first throwback theme in 2015 coincided with the return of its long held, Labor Day weekend spot on the NASCAR schedule.
For more than a half-century, summer in the South closed with NASCAR's run at Darlington. The track had its date taken away after 2003 due to Sprint Cup schedule realignment. But after tries in November, May and April, NASCAR has locked Darlington back into Labor Day weekend through 2020.
"There's a lot of history at this place and we're honored to help NASCAR celebrate that," Tharp said.
The track won marketing team of the year award from NASCAR for the "Tradition Returns to Darlington Raceway" campaign.
NASCAR said, the throwback theme was "embraced industry-wide, the successful event weekend saw unprecedented stakeholder collaboration with a level of complexity never before seen within the sport."
Edwards believes it's because NASCAR drivers and fans cherish the past, sometimes moreso than other sports.
"It's something that's important to those who love the sport," he said. "It's going to be a great time."