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.

Keep a record of the materials used: brand, type, color name or number, and so on. Relying on memory can cause problems later when you need more paint.

Miller says it's important to lay out the look of the car and then walk away about 50 feet. "What looks good up close may not be what it looks like on the racetrack in the dark," he says. "Walk back and squint. That will help you visualize what your car will look like at speed on the track."

Distance can also point out problems with letter spacing on sponsor graphics. Miller remembers designing lettering for a florist truck. While it looked fine up close, "Flick Florist" took on a whole new meaning from a distance. Better spacing on the signage took care of what could have been an embarrassing problem. Leaving enough space between individual letters is imperative.

Graphics need to be easy to repair as well as paint. Miller suggests getting in touch with a local sign shop.

Most sign shops provide a variety of services. Clent Sutton is the manager of Impact Signs in Beaverton, Oregon. "What we make is meant to be seen from a distance," he says. That means that the company already knows about proper letter sizes and spacing.

Help from a local sign shop may prove invaluable. "But make sure you know what the requirements are for the track you're racing," Sutton says. Find out number size, placement, restrictions on graphics, and other relevant information before you design the look of your car.

Sign shops can make paint masks for special paint designs from vector files and layout graphics and numbers. They'll even put them on the car for you. But the more services you need, the higher the cost. You may be able to have the sign shop sponsor you with an ad on your car in exchange for their work. You should ask about it.

"Consider where the car will be seen from when you're placing sponsor logos," Sutton says. "If most of the people are above in grandstands, then maybe the roof, hood, or trunk would be the best place to put your sponsors."Culver suggests putting most of your sponsor's information on those same areas, but for a different reason. "Odds are, you are going to be repairing the sides," he says.

He also recommends using a semi-stick vinyl for numbers and logos. "When you get tire burn, you can patch numbers with extra vinyl. It looks good at 5 feet and at 50." Putting numbers on a bull's-eye or TV screen-shaped piece of semi-stick vinyl also makes replacing numbers easier. "You don't want vinyl that sticks too well because you can waste an awful lot of time trying to get it off without tearing the paint," he adds. Outlining numbers makes them stand out more, but can add to the time it takes to make repairs.

Sometimes a sponsor may advertise on your car for just one or two races. Sutton suggests applying a semi-stick patch to the car and then putting the sponsor's signage on it in this instance. That way, all you need to do when you're done is peel off the whole thing.

Miller feels the look of the car's interior is also important. He recommends painting the interior of the car with a light-colored catalyst paint because it can be easily cleaned. This includes the cockpit, engine compartment, and trunk. Dove Gray works well. "The interior should be super clean and all one color," he says. "No loose wiring, and don't paint the hardware."

Culver says he would choose a light gray paint close to a color available in a rattle can, making touch-ups possible with the rattle can. The light color also makes it easier to see during repairs at night.

While it is important to have the car look good at speed on the track, sponsors also see it up close, Culver says. They often like to have the car displayed at their place of business to get more mileage from their advertising.

A bumper sticker seen in a gift shop reads, "A boat: a hole in the water in which to pour money." That could certainly apply to race cars as well. Making your car look good can pay dividends in sponsor dollars and attract attention to your racing program. The price of doing so depends on how much you can do yourself and how much you pay someone to do some of the work for you. In any case, making your car look good may be worth the extra cost and effort.

* Keep it simple, clean, and easy to repair.
* Use contrasting colors for body and graphics.
* Use single-stage catalyzed urethane paint for ease of repainting.
* Choose fleet or factory pack colors.
* Use semi-stick vinyl for numbers and graphics for easier removal and repair.
* Paint the interior with a light-colored paint. Keep it clean and make sure there are no dangling wires.
* Make your car look good, but don't make it look too good.

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