CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tony Stewart joked that "I can't remember what I had for lunch most days" but the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion said he can recall the first time he saw Bobby Allison race.
"It was at Scottsburg, Indiana," Stewart said Wednesday during an appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "They ran Late Models, Street Stocks and Bombers or something like that that night.
"It was him in a Coke-sponsored car. He was running around the bottom the whole time; I was yelling 'Run the top!' I wanted to see him run the top once. But he was set up for the bottom I'm sure and I remember he ran eighth.
"That was probably 30-35 years ago but I can remember it."
Stewart will pay tribute to the NASCAR Hall of Fame driver during this year's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway with a throwback paint scheme similar to that run by Allison between 1970-73. The car was unveiled for the first time at the Hall Wednesday.
Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet will bear the Coca-Cola logos and feature the same red and gold paint scheme that adorned Allison's familiar No. 12 entry.
"I knew Bobby because he was a NASCAR driver. My family, we barely could afford to race the go-karts we were racing let alone go do something else. ... So I went with a buddy of mine; I didn't know Bobby was going to be there that day. But out front of the race track on the marquee it said Bobby Allison was racing and the date and I thought 'Wow, that's going to be cool.'
Some two dozen throwback schemes for this year's race, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 4, have been announced. Track officials say they expect the entire field to feature a nod to the past in some form or fashion.
Allison won 84 times in NASCAR's premier series and won the championship in 1983. He won the Southern 500 at Darlington four times, twice (1971-72) while running the red-and-gold scheme.
But what helped make the Hueytown, Alabama-based driver a fan favorite was his willingness to go race anywhere, at any time. Race fans that were not able to travel to Daytona or Darlington, Bristol or Riverside could see Allison compete at the tiny half-mile tracks across the Midwest and Northeast.
Stewart, Allison said, is cut from the same cloth."
I appreciate his enthusiasm for the sport, his ability, his willingness to go anywhere anytime and run different kinds of tracks, different kinds of equipment," Allison, now 78, said. "I ran different kinds but I never really got into the dirt Super Mods or anything. I did run them just a little … never dug into that, which he has. And he's won. I won in quite a few, but not all of them. I look at that and really appreciate him."
Allison spent his entire driving career darting between weekly short-track events while competing in NASCAR's premier series."I felt like any lap was just more experience, more training for me," he said. "Also any differences helped me adjust when the track changed, the weather changed. So much of that would throw the drivers; it helped me adjust to whatever went on anywhere I was racing."
"He was fierce in a race car," Stewart said. "You knew that if he was out there … you were going to have to be on your game to beat him that day.
"(Darlington) is one of two Cup tracks that we run that I've not won a Cup race at … this is my last chance to cross another one, and a big one, off the list. And it's going to be in a really cool car too."