On Aug. 5, the CARS Tour hosted the inaugural Throwback 276 at North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway.
The event, which featured twin 138-lap races for super late models and late model stocks, served as a short-track version of Darlington (S.C.) Raceway’s successful Southern 500 Throwback weekend that started in 2015. The number of laps between the two divisions, 276, was an ode to the distance of the races run by the NASCAR Cup Series at the Hickory track in 1971 and ’72.
The idea, championed by CARS Tour director Chris Ragle with support from series owner Jack McNelly, was more successful than anyone imagined.
“It was kind of just an idea that I’d kind of been working on for a few years,” Ragle explained. “It was just kind of a long process to get to this point. Myself and Jack, we kind of thought of all the reasons why it wouldn’t work and finally we just kind of took that leap of faith.”
Ragle’s faith in the idea led to the biggest crowd in CARS Tour history.
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“We were shocked a little bit. I know Josh Berry and guys like Deac (McCaskill) and these other teams were saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got this many people coming and this many people have talked about it.’ I knew it was going to be good, but I didn’t think it was going to be that big with that many people,” Ragle said. “I feel like we did a pretty good job from a series standpoint preparing for the crowd. From the track standpoint, I think Hickory, the track itself, did a pretty good job.
“It’s kind of hard to gauge those things when you’ve never done one. The first one is always the hardest, they say.”[caption id="attachment_247226" align="alignleft" width="300"] Fans filled the stands for the inaugural Throwback 276 at Hickory Motor Speedway in August. (Adam Fenwick Photo)[/caption]
Harry Gant and Ned Jarrett were in attendance signing autographs, while fans came dressed in their favorite vintage T-shirts and drivers and crews got in on the action, with some wearing all-white crew uniforms or uniforms from the past. There were awards for the best-appearing throwback car, crew and fan.
“The teams bought into it. You saw guys like the No. 11 team (of Nolan Pope) with the all-white uniforms. Landon Huffman’s team brought back his dad’s old Toyota uniforms with Whitehouse Apple Juice. Brandon Setzer had the mustache and looked just like his dad,” Ragle said. “It takes that and the fans. The fan competition we had, we didn’t have three, four or five people dressed up for the throwback award for the best-dressed fan. I think it seemed like 75 or 100 people and those were just the people who came down for the contest.
“I think what is really cool about throwback weekend, what makes it special, is that everybody can participate. There wasn’t a fan I saw in the grandstands that didn’t have an old shirt. Photographers, media outlets, my photographer, they all participated. That’s the most rewarding part. Not only did we come up with an idea that worked, but we also came up with an idea where everybody got to participate.”
Of the more than 40 race cars, 25 carried unique throwback paint schemes honoring drivers of yesteryear. While many featured throwback schemes honoring NASCAR legends, some recognized short-track stars.
Brandon Setzer honored his father, Dennis, with a scheme reminiscent of Dennis Setzer’s orange No. 4 late model. Josh Berry honored his boss, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, with a Mom & Pops paint scheme like the one she drove during her racing days.