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May 12, 2024

How NASCAR drivers and teams embraced their Regional roots during Darlington throwback weekend

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Rodney Childers could not help but smile as his team unloaded Josh Berry’s No. 4 Harrison’s Ford for the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway.

Just a few weeks earlier, Berry and Stewart-Haas Racing surprised Childers with a special throwback scheme similar to the No. 54 Late Model Stock Car he piloted to numerous victories around the southeast in 1998, a run that helped kickstart a successful career as a NASCAR crew chief.

Seeing the familiar silver colors on Berry’s car reminded Childers of all the pleasant memories he amassed as a driver, adding that the scheme perfectly encapsulated the significance and spirit of NASCAR’s annual Darlington throwback tradition.

“It was pretty emotional, and I was trying not to cry in front of a bunch of people,” Childers said. “We only got the cover back about three feet and I knew what it was. That scheme has been embedded in my head for a long time, and we were competitive everywhere we went. Having it on our car for throwback weekend is really special.”

Ongoing since the 2015 Southern 500, throwback weekend has seen NASCAR teams across all three top series bring out an assortment of tribute schemes that primarily honor key moments or prominent figures across motorsports history.

For the 2024 edition, teams were encouraged to design cars that honored the grassroots origins of their driver or a crew member. Although NASCAR history remained a focal point at Darlington this year, several programs arrived at the historic track with cars inspired by short-track heritage.

NASCAR Xfinity Series veteran Ryan Sieg carried the same colors he used during his time competing in Super Late Model events across Georgia during the 2000s, while Corey LaJoie’s paint scheme resembled the one from his first ARCA Menards Series East victory at Bowman Gray Stadium in 2012.

Berry’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Chase Briscoe chose to respect his dirt racing heritage for throwback weekend with a white No. 14 that mirrored the sprint car his father Kevin and grandfather Richard made famous during their respective careers.

Briscoe’s car also carries the names of every driver that has competed for his family’s sprint car team since 1976, which includes more than 14 Hall of Famers in the discipline and a picture collage that features Kevin battling alongside Jeff Gordon.

Chase Briscoe
Chase Briscoe’s throwback scheme honors the drivers who have raced with his family’s sprint car program during its existence. (Photo: Yem Sanlaeid/NASCAR Regional)

The historical and personal context behind his racing background is why Briscoe was eager to represent his family at Darlington for the throwback theme this year.

“Throwback weekend is always cool because you get to shed light on some paint schemes NASCAR fans might not have seen before,” Briscoe said. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but I just never had the opportunity to do it. My grandpa is still around, so I wanted to make sure he [saw this scheme].

“That paint scheme is not the most flashy or exciting, but it means a lot to me and my family.”

Modified history was also on display at Darlington throughout the weekend. Berry and Briscoe’s other Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Preece brought out a car resembling the scheme he used when he won the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship.

Patrick Emerling, another Modified veteran who currently drives the No. 07 part-time for SS Greenlight Racing in the Xfinity Series, honored a fellow discipline standout Jan Leaty with his throwback. Leaty served as Emerling’s Modified crew chief from the early 2010s until 2023.

Throughout his career, Emerling has taken advantage of every opportunity to recognize the history of Modified racing. In 2022, Emerling ran a tribute schemed to Modified legend Richie Evans, which had an air cleaner and bars as part of the wrap and sponsorship from B.R. Dewitt, who owned Evans’ Modified up until his passing in 1985.

The Jan Leaty throwback carries plenty of significance for Emerling. Not only is he honoring one of the best drivers in the history of Modified competition, but also a figure that was instrumental in molding Emerling into the driver he is today.

Patrick Emerling
Patrick Emerling chose to honor fellow Modified driver Jan Leaty at Darlington Raceway this year. Leaty was his crew chief for all of his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour wins. (Photo: Susan Wong/NASCAR Regional)

“[This scheme] really means a lot to me,” Emerling said. “Jan helped me out a lot as a driver, and we’re almost like family now. There was an opportunity with a red, white and blue sponsor in Liberty Brew [Coffee] coming onboard with us. We made this [throwback] happen, and I’m super stoked about it.”

Emerling has plenty more Modified-centric ideas for potential throwbacks at Darlington and hopes to see them come to fruition over the next several years.

Berry himself is unsure of the longevity of throwback weekend with how many iconic schemes have been utilized during the event’s 10-year run. Despite this, he expressed satisfaction over making everything come together to honor the past achievements of his crew chief and a fellow Late Model Stock alum.

“There’s a lot that goes into these throwbacks, and that’s why you see less and less of them,” Berry said. “A lot [of ideas] have been done already, and it takes a partner like Harrison’s that wants to buy into it and is willing to change their branding. It means a lot to Rodney for us to run that paint scheme again and have his family here. That’s what this is about.”

Childers said the tribute scheme also serves as a reminder of a simple time in Late Model Stock racing, back when he had to work diligently for hours to stay on top against entry lists that regularly exceeded 70 cars.

Having Berry as the one driving the car only makes the weekend more perfect for Childers, given their similar backgrounds. The duo has yet to celebrate a victory together, but Childers is confident Berry’s experience from so many years in short-track racing will gradually make their program better.

The opportunity for Childers and others like him to see their accomplishments honored in a NASCAR race at Darlington is why he believes throwback weekend needs to endure.

“We’re at the best place [for throwback weekend],” Childers said. “There is only one place to do it, and that’s here with the rich history of Darlington [Raceway] and everything that’s happened here over the years. To do the throwback schemes and have a lot of the Hall of Famers come be a part of it makes this perfect.

“Hopefully we can keep doing it for a long time.”