Remember When Drivers Only Had To Thank A Single Sponsor?
Surely one of the most famous and recognisable partnerships in motorsport is that of STP Motor Oil and Richard “The King” Petty. I was somewhat smacked in the face once I realized I hadn’t featured this simple-yet-striking livery from what many consider to be the golden years of Nascar racing, specifically because it’s one of the most tasteful paint jobs ever applied to a stock car.
The Scientifically Treated Petroleum company leapt to worldwide fame, when it began its affiliation with Richard Petty in 1972—a relationship that endured to become the second longest in motor racing history. The ’72 Dodge Charger Daytona was the car that kicked off this record-shattering love story, though it wasn’t love at first sight…in fact, it was far from it.’
As far as the livery was concerned, the whole thing almost didn’t happen at all—and this strikes a chord with many experiences of mine, particularly with my experience as an art director. Andy Granatelli, the CEO of STP, insisted the car be painted in Day-Glo Red, but Richard Petty, naturally, wanted it in Petty Blue.
First: the idea that a driver can stand his ground and demand the color of the car above his title sponsor seems insane, but this is The King, after all. With neither side backing down, there was only one solution: each got half. The results of the now-unmistakable two-tone design speaks for itself, and it’s a rare case of two wrongs making a right.
Once this decision was finally made, the designers looked to have had some fun with the brief. The two-tone color scheme could all so easily have been a simple split down the line; of a red top, blue bottom (or the other way ’round—see how arguments start?)
Instead, they make what is almost always a cardinal sin in vehicle graphics: the shape of the red side-panel sits well within the car’s actual lines and shape; usually, this shortens the look of the car, resulting in a strange and stubby look. The Dodge Charger Daytona, of course, didn’t suffer this fate—quite the opposite, in fact.
Thanks to its gargantuan length, it had the reverse effect: the car looked a lot better by being, visually, a bit stubbier. These two vivid tones of red and blue sit remarkably well together, but I wouldn’t want either to be shade brighter, as they’re both close to the line in terms of, “beginning to hurt the eyes”.
With the huge number 43 emblazoned on the doors and a giant STP logo spread across the hood, it was a livery that became legendary from day one. The STP logo has a great advantage when it comes to racing liveries, as well: those three letters and simple oval shape seem to say “racing,” no matter what. I can’t think of many other logos, that when applied to even the most civilised of road cars, can turn them into sporty cars.
That said, designs that feature only STP logos—including the ridiculous team uniforms someone dreamt up for the Indianapolis 500 one year—tend to not look as great as Petty’s Nascar designs. Even svelte Formula 1 cars don’t necessarily look as good as STP-sponsored stock cars. For instance, the ugliest-of-motorsport-ducklings: March Engineering’s 1971 ‘711’ Formula 1 car. One barely notices the sponsor logo, for your eyes are preoccupied with that nose; from one angle, it resembles a Spitfire aircraft’s, from above, a tea tray.
Each time STP make the return to a race series as a major sponsor, it seems to celebrate the news with its new race car dressed in the original STP/Petty colors. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, but it does raise the problem: if a livery never changes, what chance does a modern race car have of becoming iconic? In STP’s case, there’s been a lot of homage to its first partnership with Petty over the last 40 years.
Still, for me, this combination of sponsor and driver is unmatched. Aside from their insane success in terms of race results, the idea that the protagonists also created the color scheme blows me away: imagine the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 team changing its livery because Lewis Hamilton starts favoring the color red.