With the announcement of the new head of NHRA, everyone seems to be debating the growing lack of interest in the NHRA brand (in particular) of Drag Racing. As someone who has worked in and around the sport for the last 30 years, I felt compelled to ad my grievance to the conversation, since rules were made that virtually depleted my favorite part of the sport.
Remember the old term “Show & Go”? One thing that set Drag Racing apart from other forms of Motorsports, was the ‘Show & Go” aspect of the sport. From the early 60’s through the 90’s Drag Racing machinery was as beautiful to look at, as it was fun the watch.
When I started my graphic design business in the late 1980’s, drag racing cars were seen as a visual fashion statement when compared to NASCAR. NASCAR paint schemes were simple and boring, because of all the restrictions placed on number size and decal placements. On the other hand, drag racing was wide-open in the visual sense, and beautifully designed “Custom” paint jobs were the norm. I remember in the mid 80’s speaking to NHRA’s Chief Photographer Leslie Lovett about this very subject. Leslie told me how he was still amazed at how beautiful the car were, he said he would sometimes just walk up and rub his hand across the hood of a car to see if it was real, because the “candied” paint jobs were so deep they looked like liquid. Sadly those days of beautiful paint are all but gone.
Now obviously along with every other areas of the sport, the cost of nice paint job has gone through the roof. What may have once been a $3,000 paint job would now be a $13,000 investment. However, the demise of drag racing's “visual-impact” paint-jobs, started long before the rising costs associated with said imagery.
In the mid 1990’s NHRA mandated decal placement and size, and they did this to placate the contingency sponsors. Before this time, often, contingency names and decals would be painted mono-chromatically along the bottom of the rocker panels, so as not to disrupt the paint job and the overall appearance of the car. If decals were used, they were most often downsized, again, so the placement of such would not interfere with the looks of the car, or worse yet crowd-out the main sponsor name placement.
We understand that due to the structure of NHRA’s prize-money purse, Sportsman Racers rely heavily on the contingency sponsored programs to win the funds needed to maintain their racing operations. So, NHRA developed new rule about mandatory decal placement, and this occurred for one basic reason.
By the time the 1990’s rolled around, the contingency programs were in full swing, and a problem arose when racers started to complain to NHRA about not getting paid by the contingency sponsors. NHRA quickly went to those sponsors to see what the trouble was, and the conversation went something like this…
NHRA; “We’re getting numerous complaints from racers about not receiving their Prize-Money?”
Contingency; “Well we didn’t see our decal on the car?”
NHRA; “It was there, it was painted along the bottom of the car with all the others.”
Contingency; “Yeah but we paid good money to have our decals designed in the colors we wanted!”
NHRA; “Okay fine, but “so and so” had your decal on the car!”
Contingency; “Yes but that’s not the size of our decal, they downsized it, we want it to used in the size we made them.”
NHRA; “Okay fine, but “so and so” said they ran the decal you gave them, but you still owe them more money!”
Contingency; “Yes, but they only had a decal for our sparkplugs, they didn’t have one for our ignition system, so why should pay them for both?”
NHRA; “Okay fine, here’s what will do, starting now, only decals given by the sponsors can be used (no monochromatically painted decals will be accepted.) The decals used have to be whatever size the sponsor produces, and when running multiple products by the same company, and separate decal for each product must be used!”
The long-term result, 90% of the beautiful paint jobs are now gone. Individual car recognition based on colors and design is vanishing, leaving a field of one-color paint jobs, making all the cars have the same (boring) appearance. Worst of all, what used to be beautifully painted sportsman cars, are now reduced to looking like old steamer trunks plastered with decals from all over the world. So why spend all that money on a beautiful paint job only to have all covered over by decals? Some cars even have the entire side-panels completely covered, from the rockers to the window frames, with a visual cacophony of 100s of decals.
Are many of these decals even readable?
Even in the Professional ranks such as Pro-Stock, more and more teams are opting for one color paint jobs that get used as a back drop for the decals, and basically having the appearance of a sign board. The end result is a field of similar looking cars with no personality what so ever.
In the end, drag racing and it’s fans are the big losers, as the bright and beautifully paints jobs are disappearing and being replaced with one color or “Vinyl Wraps.” The ‘Wrap” jobs certainly have their place and function, but they are very different in color and texture from the beautiful paint of the past, but that’s a whole other discussion to be tackled at another time…
The point to all this is, what purpose do these 100’s of decals slapped all over the cars serve? With such a menagerie of decals used, there is something to be said for “not seeing the forest of all the trees.” Psychologically, instead of attracting attention, this mess of “cooperate-graffiti” has the affect of blinding or repulsing the viewer’s eye, due to all the visual noise. Instead of being attracted by beauty, we turn away from the visual indigestion.
From my perspective as a designer of paint jobs, if drag racing is suffering from loss of interest, the fact that we now have a myriad of visually repulsive cars all looking similar, is one of many factors to consider. Gone is the “Show & Go” quality of the sport that filled decades of magazines, and set our imaginations ablaze, in anticipation of the WinterNationals to see what the new cars would like…Nowadays, no one is excited about the sometimes ugly, dark & dreary, or the monotone colored boring offerings of today’s racing livery.
I for one, miss beautiful paint jobs, with well-executed designs and bright colors, that attract and direct a viewer’s eye to well placed sponsor names and signs.
No one wants to watch a bunch old steamer trunks run down the track, of course it could be argued, that is precisely what we have now…
Disclaimer...Images selected for this blog were chosen by the author only, and in no way implies or reflects that the owners of these cars share in the same opinion or ideas as that of the author.