NASCAR history is colorful, and so are the cars

Maybe because Richard Petty Motorsports has been in the news so much, I was thinking about car colors, paint schemes and what they represent for drivers. Throughout NASCAR’s history, the paint scheme of a car said a lot about the driver, the sport and the car. They still do. Think about the shock when the Budweiser colors were suddenly going round the track with the 9 instead of the 8.

I don’t even have to go into what the black Number 3 means, right? Loads of folks are familiar with the story behind the Petty Blue colors. Not enough blue, not enough white leads to one heck of a legendary color. Race fans remember Jeff Gordon and his rainbow Dupont Chevy. Pretty flashy for NASCAR!

But what about some of the other cars? The orange Tide #17 driven by Darrell Waltrip was an interesting note in NASCAR history. Tide isn’t a brand associated with motors, cars, motorsports, or hell, even men. Who does the laundry? That’s right, women. Yes, yes. I know. Please don’t use that sentence to roll out the attacks on me about who does the laundry. I’m sure you all wash your own socks. With Tide, right?

A NASCAR team deciding to run a laundry detergent as a sponsor knew that there were women in the stands, maybe women who needed a car to pull for. It was a smart idea and one hell of a car. Waltrip won the Daytona 500 in that car.

In 2008, Dale Junior ran a throwback scheme to one of the neatest cars I have ever heard of. Buddy Baker drove the Gray Ghost to victory in the 1980 Daytona 500. Baker’s car (and Earnhardt’s revival of it) was a silver and gray that blended into the track. The other drivers felt that the car held an unfair advantage, since it seemed to appear out of nowhere. Baker was forced to put reflectors on the car, to warn the other drivers he was coming on through.

Another great example is Carl Kiekhaefer. NASCAR’s first multi-car team owner, Kiekhaefer was also the first to paint a sponsor on the side of the car. Well, maybe not the first, but the first to use a national sponsor outside of the automotive industry. His cars ran Mercury Outboard Motors as their sponsor. Kiekhaefer is an interesting character, by the way. A real kettle of fish in NASCAR history.

Really, one of the best things about the car paint schemes is that they mark races and drivers. Sit down with an old NASCAR driver and he can tell you which car took him to the finish line and which car took him home early (Or not at all). Folks who have been going to races for years can remember cars and colors and numbers, these are the marks of the sport. How about you folks? Anyone have a special paint scheme that they admired the most or remember the best?

Me? I wish I could have seen the original Gray Ghost run. I loved the revival scheme so much and the story behind it. Who would think that a stock car could sneak up on anyone?