At the time, NASCAR racing teams didn’t give a damn about painting their fleets in fancy colors, a widespread attitude evidenced by images dating back to the association’s first race in 1949. crew got the race number on the right and their sponsors’ names spelled correctly, anything outside of a car was otherwise good to ride.
Over the years, as car sponsorship purses grew, so did the logos adorning the hood and side panels, but it wasn’t until 1995 that the Childress Racing team pushed the idea that their fleet transformed into mobile billboards a little further. That year, just in time for NASCAR’s All-Star exhibition race, the team would leave the coveted all-black Chevy Monte Carlo piloted by the legendary Dale Earnhardt and changes the color scheme. It would become an all-star tradition that lasted until 2000, when radical exterior design erupted in controversy.
Leaving Black Chevy
Earnhardt might have thought compromising his Chevy would wreak havoc with his “Intimidator” status, but at least he could still race the rest of the season in his Goodwrench-sponsored black race that has caused concern among his opponents. But in 1995, even the famous driver probably expressed surprise when the team went with a silver Chevy to recognize the silver (as in the 25th) anniversary of the Winston Tobacco Company as NASCAR’s title sponsor in 1995. Brass Childress made the color change so secret that none of the pit crew knew about it until they unloaded the Chevy from the trailer before the star race, at the time known as The Winston.
Taking advantage of the publicity generated by the “Silver Secret”, the Childress team opted for a star-studded look in 1996 to commemorate the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The following years saw the famous No. 3 car sporting orange for Wheaties (Earnhardt was the first racing driver to adorn his cereal box), black and gold for Bass Pro Shops, and all-yellow paint reminiscent of the driver’s debut when Wrangler Jeans sponsored his race.
A crazy makeover of Monte Carlo
Enter Peter Max, a pop artist who first tasted fame for designing the bird-on-guitar logo for the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival, before creating material for five Super Bowls and five Grammy Awards. Known for being unconventional every time he put his brush to canvas, Max teamed up with Childress to provide a similar treatment to Earnhardt’s Chevy. The team had paid so much attention to Max’s involvement that they planned to run the car not just on the Winston, but on the Coca-Cola 600 a week later. He was true to form when he finished the job, saying, “I designed the car to look like it was being driven through the waterfall of the Max color spectrum.”
He wasn’t kidding because he managed to cram every color of the spectrum onto the Chevy’s body. But there hardly seemed to be any symmetrical thinking. Gobs, streaks and smudges covered the outer bumper to bumper as if Earnhardt had driven the thing in the middle of a food fight. Max even turned Earnhardt’s No. 3 designation into a multicolored, blue-edged pastiche.
Earnhardt finished third in the Max car
A few months before the Winston’s May race, Earnhardt held court on the Las Vegas Strip with onlookers eager to see what the new design would look like. Once the driver revealed the look, people gasped in dismay. Some time later, and still diplomatically, Earnhardt said he couldn’t wait to drive the thing. “This is by far the most unique paint scheme we’ve ever done to date,” he said. “Peter Max has created some unique works of art over the years. I can’t wait to drive one of his creations to Victory Lane.”
But as willing as he seemed in his desire to get behind the wheel of the Max creation, Earnhardt walked the line when it came to his fire suit. He remained with his black and white Goodwrench suit instead of the clothes created to match the vehicle’s rainbow mashup. But Earnhardt failed to reach victory lane in either of his efforts at the Winston and Coca-Cola 600, instead finishing a very respectable third place each time.
Earnhardt raced in a pink car for the first time
In retrospect, ESPN rated the Earnhardt Experience as the second-worst color scheme ever for a NASCAR entry. That accolade goes to Buddy Baker, whose 1980 entry in the Daytona 500 had fans nicknaming his Oldsmobile the “Gray Ghost.” The smoky exterior of his car camouflaged his ride against the super speedway’s similarly colored racing surface, which would have surprised drivers when Baker zoomed into visual range.
And while the Max color combo didn’t suit the narrower Earnhardt, he drove in an earlier round with an unorthodox tint. He wanted his very first production car, a 1956 Ford, to be metallic purple until the paint dried. It turned pink and, lacking the resources for a different coat, Earnhardt stuck to the color for the rest of the season.
Senna and Earnhardt: two legends, two different sports, the same ruthless driving style
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