Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rookie Stripe: The Vivid World of NASCAR Paint Schemes

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
One of the most mouth-watering, tantalizing, I-must-eat-that-right-now moments I ever had at a NASCAR race had nothing to do with track food, or even food from the miles and miles of tailgates around the track’s periphery. It happened when I first set eyes on the No. 18 car of Kyle Bush, painted a shiny yellow and peppered with larger-than-life chocolate orbs.

I wanted to eat the car.

Art and racing intersect when it comes to cars, and I love this elegant aspect of a reputedly aggressive sport. Paint schemes are one of the most beautiful and fascinating parts of a NASCAR event. They’re rarely the same from race to race, and passionate fans tend to have strong opinions about them.

In the sport’s early days and up through the late twentieth century, cars were painted by hand. You’ll still find hand-painted cars here and there today. But just like NASCAR itself, car-painting technique has evolved with technology and time. Though stock car art is commonly referred to as a “paint scheme,” today you’ll rarely find a full-fledged paint job above those four wheels.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Most modern-day stock cars are decorated with vinyl -- enormous shrink wraps applied with hot air. If you’ve heard of regular automobiles being wrapped, it’s essentially the same process. While a real paint job may seem truer to NASCAR’s roots, vinyl paint schemes are an easy decision for most teams because of the volume of cars produced and the time painting a car requires. Real estate on a race car is precious, and with sponsor placement as a driving force, teams need to quickly and efficiently change paint schemes between races.

Here are some useful tidbits about modern NASCAR paint schemes:

· Most teams body-wrap the cars in their shops. The cars get a primer coat of gray paint, and employees in the body shop spend several hours applying the vinyl by hand with heat guns, knives and other tools. 

· The front and rear headlights on stock cars aren’t real -- they're part of the wrap.

· The weight of a body wrap and decals are a big factor for the car's aerodynamics.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs

· Paint schemes can illustrate almost anything: sponsors, sponsor products, nonprofits, special events, movies, the military and more. In honor of the 2015 Sprint Cup schedule’s return to Darlington on its original date of Labor Day weekend, NASCAR teams united to produce throwback schemes honoring the sport’s history.

· Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Rainbow paint scheme is one of the most revered of all time. He drove it from his start in 1992 until 2000, and resurrected it in 2015.

· In honor of the SpongeBob Squarepants 400 at Kansas Speedway in 2015, many drivers opted for SpongeBob themes.

· Creative, one-time paint schemes are common at the All-Star Race.

· Legendary artist Sam Bass has not only designed many of NASCAR’s paint schemes, but also programs, trophies, and even mascots.

· NASCAR has to approve every paint scheme, and has turned some down.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs

If you have some spare time, just for fun Google ugliest, scariest, worst, best, most memorable and most embarrassing NASCAR paint schemes. It’ll keep you entertained for hours.

One of the best ways to understand how the vinyl wrapping paint scheme process works? Watch it happen. This video from Joe Gibbs Racing shows the color process for Matt Kenseth’s Dollar General Toyota. You can find many more of their race car wraps in time-lapse video, including the No. 18’s Skittles wrap, on their YouTube page.

Color me impressed.