How They “Paint” NASCAR Cars

Exotic track-special Porsches are famous for the way they forego badges in the name of lightness. Rather than the metal pieces you’d find on the typical 911, you get stickers. Stickers. On a $190,000 car. That’s taking less is more to the extreme.

However, Porsche isn’t the only fan of fancy stickers. In fact, NASCAR racers – some of the most recognizable racecars on the planet – are stickered from stem-to-stern. Sticker isn’t the technical term, though. In the world of automotive couture, the colorful, unique and sponsor-spattered livery that adorns a large part of the field at any cup series race is called a wrap.

Not every car in the field is wrapped – some still choose to go the old-fashioned route with paint and decals – but names like Chip Ganassi, Richard Childress Racing and other cup frontrunners are supporters of the new technique. It’s likely that one day soon it will replace painting altogether for race cars.

What’s in a Wrap?

Wraps are made of vinyl, and most of them come from a name you’ve probably heard of: 3M. When a team wants a specific design to showcase a sponsor or give fans something new to look at, the design is printed onto multiple 60-inch wide sheets of adhesive-backed vinyl. Technicians then apply the vinyl by heating it and aligning it with the bodylines of the car. The entire process can be finished in less than four hours.

Wrapping cars is not just for NASCAR, however. Car fanatics can have their own rides wrapped as well, for a look that stands out from the crowd. Wraps are a great way to personalize any vehicle, whether that car is in your driveway or at the racetrack.

Competitive Advantages

The process gained real traction between the 2005 and 2006 seasons, when the wraps proved helpful for weight purposes at restrictor-plate tracks. Enough vinyl to cover a car weighs about 13 pounds less than the equivalent paint job, and while that might not seem like much, ever pound counts at 200 mph.

These days, some teams even apply multiple wraps over one another, peeling a single layer off between races to prepare for the next event quickly. Another advantage of wraps is that the vinyl can actually help hold the metal skin of the car together, which is helpful for tracks like Darlington where it’s common for drivers to rub up against the wall.

Keeping It Old-School

There’s a reason not all cars are wrapped. Though. Paint still has some distinct advantages, and one is cost. When it takes 25 sponsors to put a race team together, saving a few bucks goes a long way. Wraps can cost thousands more than a paint job, and many teams enjoy sponsorship with a paint company that can make repairs at little cost, as opposed to spending $500-$700 on a vinyl repair kit.

All cars are still painted beneath the wraps, and sometimes painted outright. Typically, the major sponsor of a race team gets to decide what colors a car will sport.

Paint is easier to maintain than vinyl because if a car is in a minor incident, it can be touched up. Damage your wrap and you’re rocking the battle wounds until there’s time to apply new vinyl, which thankfully is a quick process. Jimmie Johnson, a well-respected veteran of the NASCAR circuit, is one example of a racer who still uses painted cars.

Sponsors Have the Last Word

For millions of dollars, you would expect your name to look good on whatever it is you’re buying. Nowhere is that more apparent than in NASCAR, where sponsors kick down huge sums of money to get their name in front of fans, and they expect it to be seen.

There are five elements to a major sponsorship livery for NASCAR: the hood, quarter panels, decklid, roof panel and TV panel. Once those are full, associate sponsors occupy the rest of the blank canvas on the car’s A, B and C pillars. These are emblazoned with names and logos using decals. Occasionally, an associate sponsor will earn the coveted quarter panel spot.

Not every piece of livery on a car is bought, though. There are in-kind sponsorships that can appear when a sponsor has backed a driver, a particular venue or even a specific event. Teams know exactly how to fill up all the free space on their rolling ad campaigns.

Not Getting Cheaper

Staying competitive in any major sport costs money, but motorsports are particularly ridiculous. This is why so much effort goes into getting the cars noticed. Any new way to promote brings valuable lifeblood to the team. The giant cougar livery and “Me” on the hood might have worked for Ricky Bobby, but don’t expect to see too many drivers go rogue this season if they can avoid it.