While the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang is piloted by a relatively fresh face in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, it was a tenacious veteran whose heroics in the early 1980s made the No. 00 synonymous with winning.
The No. 00 of today is driven by 19-year-old Cole Custer, who is competing for rookie-of-the-year honors in the stepping-stone division to the elite Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. And while Custer makes a name for himself in the XFINITY Series, he drives a car with a number made famous by Sam Ard.
In just 92 career XFINITY Series starts between 1982 and 1984, Ard drove his No. 00 machine to 22 victories, 67 top-five and 79 top-10 finishes while earning 24 poles and leading 4,035 laps. His average finish was an astonishing 5.5 and it led Ard to back-to-back championships in 1983 and 1984 in what was then known as the NASCAR Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series.
Ard passed away earlier this year, but his legacy lives on. Custer's No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang will feature a paint scheme honoring Ard when he competes in the Sept. 2 Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway. The same white paint and red lettering that can be seen on Ard's No. 00 Oldsmobile Omega on the Glory Road display inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, will be emulated on Custer's No. 00 Ford Mustang at Darlington.
"The 00 number has been a part of my entire NASCAR career, and over the years I've gotten to know its history and met some of the people who worked with Sam and saw him race," Custer said. "The more I learn about Sam and all that he accomplished, the more impressive it becomes. I feel like I'm driving his car, and I want to make him and his family proud. Guys like Sam Ard helped shape the sport into what it is today. Without him, I don't know if the opportunity to drive racecars for a living would exist. I'm grateful for it and I'd like him and his family to know it."
Ard was born in Pamplico, South Carolina, roughly 45 minutes southeast of Darlington. Ard was a U.S. Air Force veteran who worked on aircraft at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina, as part of the war effort during Vietnam. He competed in four XFINITY Series races at Darlington. While he didn't win, he never finished lower than sixth, with his best result being second, earned twice, in 1983 and in his final Darlington race on Sept. 1, 1984.
"Sam Ard was a terrific ambassador and champion for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. It's great to see a team like Stewart-Haas Racing, and their rising star Cole Custer, pay tribute to Sam with a special throwback paint scheme in his honor," said Kerry Tharp, president, Darlington Raceway. "Sam is from nearby Pamplico, and it's great to have a local racing hero like Sam, and his family, recognized in this manner. Cole's paint scheme will be one of the highlights of our Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 race on Sept. 2, and we thank him and Stewart-Haas Racing for remembering one of our sport's heroes this way."
-- Stewart-Haas Racing --