CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was so good to be back.
More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world and changed our everyday lives, Hickory Motor Speedway and the CARS Tour hosted the Throwback 276 on July 31.
The event was nixed last year due to the pandemic, something that while disappointing, felt necessary at the time.
For the unfamiliar, the Throwback 276 is essentially the short-track version of NASCAR’s throwback weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Teams roll out special one-off paint schemes for the event, honoring NASCAR and local short-track racers.
It’s become one of the must-see events of the year at the grassroots level, with fans filling the grandstands for each of the first three editions starting in 2017. With that said, there were lingering concerns this year’s event would draw an underwhelming crowd as the COVID-19 virus continues to linger.
Thankfully, that was not the case.
Fans arrived in droves, packing the grandstands for an eventful night of racing that featured the late model stock car and super late model divisions competing in 138-lap features.
Prior to the race, fans were treated to the return of the traditional fan fest, which also featured a few retired NASCAR and regional stars signing autographs. Joe Nemechek and David Reutimann were among those on hand, as well as retired racer and former UARA-STARS Late Model Series promoter Kerry Bodenhamer.
While the team participation in the throwback portion of the event wasn’t as high as in past years, more than 20 teams ran throwback cars that honored Jack Ingram, Bobby Allison, Tim Richmond, Freddy Fryar, Robert Huffman and more.
Everyone had their own favorite paint scheme for one reason or another. The younger fans were attracted to the car of Tennessee’s Chase Dixon, who wrapped his machine to look like Tow Mater from the animated movie series “CARS.”
Other standout throwbacks included the car of Mini Tyrrell, who honored the late Ricky Hendrick with a Quaker State design that mirrored the late model Hendrick drove during his formative years.
In fact, several members of Hendrick’s late model team were on hand for the race and took photos with Tyrrell and the car prior to the event. Tyrrell led 62 laps during the late model stock race and was in contention to win before finishing fourth.
Another popular throwback was that of Jonathan Shafer, who honored Richmond with a Folgers wrap on his late model. Shafer also wore a custom Folgers uniform and a fake mustache and wig to complete the look.
While those were all popular choices among fans, our personal favorite was that of Deac McCaskill. The series frontrunner went with an obscure Kyle Petty scheme from the late 1990s — the black and white New World Order No. 49 that Petty raced in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
McCaskill admitted he was a huge wrestling fan growing up and he had a fondness for the nWo car Petty drove for team owner Kenneth Shaver in seven races during 1996 and ’97. He said he also discovered that Petty’s late son, Adam Petty, drove a late model with an identical scheme in a pair of late model races at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway and Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C., during the same time frame.
The event also drew several familiar faces, including vintage racing reseller Brent Wentz, who set up in the parking lot and sold his wares to fans as they entered the track. Matthew Dillner, best known for his work alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Peacock’s “Lost Speedways” program, was also in attendance.
Another notable attendee was Stewart-Haas Racing crew chief Rodney Childers, who watched the action from the infield. He admitted prior to the Throwback 276 on Twitter that he had hoped to compete in the race — he is a former late model stock racer himself — but took his family on vacation rather than preparing a car.
At the end of the night, checkered flags were taken home by Matt Craig in the super late model class and Josh Berry in the late model stock car division.
In an ironic twist, neither winning car featured a throwback design. When asked why, both admitted they’d been too busy racing to get the cars wrapped.
In reality, that’s not a bad problem to have.
When the racing was over and all the fans began to empty from the grandstands, it was nice to look around and take everything in. This is what we missed last year, and it was great to have it back.