NASCAR racecars are supposed to resemble the cars we drive on the road. Chevy has the “Camaro,” Toyota has the “Camry,” and Ford has the “Fusion,” but these are all in fact just variations on the NASCAR generation 6 platform launched in 2013.
These new cars feature unique body panels that help them look more like what you see in a showroom, but the best way to tell cars apart when they’re circling the pavement at 200mph is by their colors. The paint schemes worn by NASCAR competitors are unique and bright, and some of them aren’t even painted. So how do they get applied?
Old School vs. New Vinyl
Many NASCAR teams have paint sponsors that do the work of applying elaborate color schemes to vehicles in preparation for a season. Painting a car in the bright colors you need to stand out on a racetrack costs upwards of $10,000, and keep in mind that these cars are likely to wreck.
Because of the high cost of custom paint jobs, many teams have taken to using custom vinyl wraps instead of a single paint scheme for the entire season. Wraps are easy to repair and can be switched quickly between tracks to appeal to a different fan base.
Pros and Cons of Wrapping
Compared to the process of sanding a car down to bare metal and then layering on an insulated electrocoat followed by multiple coats of colored paint, a wrap goes on quick and easy.
Wraps are available in all different colors and can last several years on a typical street car. Racers will typically only use a wrap for a few races and then switch to a new one, but if the wrap is damaged, a quick fix can be made by applying new vinyl in the affected area. That allows teams to keep cars on the track for practice rather than send them back to the paint booth between races.
There are a few drawbacks to wraps. They don’t hold up as long as a paint job, and applying the wrap does add more mass to a car than a layer of paint. Wrap makers are learning how to create thinner vinyl products that reduce drag and provide better aerodynamic characteristics than even paint.
Wrap Over Paint
The other neat feature of a wrap is that it can be used to protect existing paint. NASCAR teams can apply a wrap over the livery painted on a car for a specific race or event and then remove it. The vinyl will not damage the paint below and peels away easily.
For this reason, some exotic car collectors have even taken to wrapping their cars right away after making a purchase. This ensures the paint will be in perfect condition when they sell the car a year later.
It will probably be a long time before paint goes away entirely as means of applying livery to racecars, but we are certainly living in the era of the wrap. Soon, teams may not have paint sponsors but vinyl sponsors instead.