Whether you're a first-time racer merely looking to have fun at the local track or an aspiring Nextel Cup champion, sponsorship dollars are vital to what you do-unless you print money in the basement. If you look at any race car at any local track, the odds are there's a lot of room for more sponsor information. How do you attract sponsors to pony up the dollars to help with the effort?

One way is to present them with an attractive rolling billboard for their business or product. It works in Cup, Busch, and Craftsman Truck. It can work for local businesses, too. But what makes a good-looking race car? How can you make it more likely that a photo of your car will wind up getting attention from print media? How do you make your car stand out from the crowd?

Les Miller, creative director for PCG-Campbell, a marketing and communications company that does a lot of work for Ford Racing, says it's important to keep it simple, clean, and easily repaired.

"Your car should be as clean as possible but not garish or gaudy," Miller says. He recommends using contrasting colors, but not colors with the same density. "A bright blue body with bright red numbers wouldn't have enough contrast. Also avoid shiny or chrome numbers that could be hard for timing and scoring to read. If you want to be taken seriously, no racing in primer. It looks unfinished."

Miller recommends saving Day-Glo colors for chain racing or a demolition derby because they look cheap and unprofessional. "You've never seen a Cup car in Day-Glo paint," Miller says. That goes for rollcages and wheels, too. And avoid silver or reflective paint, says Miller, because they don't photograph well.

Chucke Walkden, track photographer for Infineon Raceway, says to be sure to choose colors that are going to stand out. "You need contrast against the track, but you don't want to blind them," Walkden says. Some whites can cause problems for photography, although white is fine as long as it's not too white. "With a really bright white, everything else is underexposed," he explains. "It takes less exposure than every other car. If I'm shooting 50 cars, I'm not going to adjust my exposure for one car."

Walkden suggests primary colors such as red, yellow, and blue, with lots of contrast between the body colors and graphics. "You want it to 'pop,'" he says. "Black is probably the worst to photograph, because you only see the highlights of the paint. Darker colors at night are going to disappear into the track. Your eyes are drawn to the brighter car. With dark colors you lose the whole shape of the car. You may only see the number."

Kevin Culver, owner of Straight Line Body and Paint in Portland, Oregon, agrees with Miller about keeping the look of your car simple. Culver had done work for Sports Car Club of American racers who thought nothing of spending $1,500 to $2,000 for painting their race cars. "It was culture shock when I got into stock car racing, where they thought $200 to $300 was more like it," says Culver. But then sports car racing frowns on contact of any kind, so a $2,000 paint job will take less abuse and require less attention in the future. The paint work on a stock car, meanwhile, may need several touch-ups and require more long-term investment.

"When I started racing out at Portland Speedway in Limited Sportsman, I already had a sponsor and I wanted to keep him," Culver says. "I figured if I had a really nice looking car others in the class would want to make theirs look good, too. I thought it would raise everybody up a notch. What I found out is that it was like driving with a bull's-eye on my car."

Culver's elaborate four-color paint scheme with shadowed and outlined numbers needed repair most weekends. It was a perfect example of what not to do. "I showed them! I showed up every Friday with the car in pristine condition," he says. The next year he painted his car a solid red. It was a lot less work. Make your car look good, he says, but don't make it look too good.

The kind of paint you use is important. Culver recommends using a good, cheap, catalyzed urethane paint so that it can be easily repainted. "If you attract a sponsor, you may have to repaint the whole car," Culver points out. "A single-stage catalyzed urethane is better for making repairs because you can paint over it week after week with no reaction. It won't wrinkle or feather. You can't paint over a synthetic enamel."

How about saving money by buying leftover paint from an automotive paint store or body shop, paints that for whatever reason weren't used? "Don't do it!" Culver says. "Eventually, you have to match it. Go with fleet colors or factory pack colors. They're the cheapest because the paint store doesn't have to mix them."

Culver uses the same white, for instance, on all race cars he paints with white."That way when they come back in six months, you don't have to figure out which color you used." Touch-ups are easier and cheaper if you don't have to make up a special mix.