Gearing Up for the World of Racing

Tackling the challenges of race-car graphics.

When bluemedia first entered the digital-printing arena about a decade ago, I dreamed of landing projects for huge brands like Microsoft or Sony, acquiring a job for a professional sports team, or even creating a masterpiece for the NFL’s Super Bowl.

At the top of my bucket list, though, were racing vehicles. I wanted to join the elite group of companies whose portfolios included off-road vehicles for the Score Baja 1000, a monster truck for Monster Jam, a top fuel dragster for the National Hot Rod Association, a NASCAR ride, or even a Formula One car. With this goal in mind, so began my quest to tackle all of these fast racers. And, I’m happy to say, we’ve been able to check off everything from that list.

These projects turned out to be far cooler than I could have ever imagined, but they were also more difficult to complete. The trick in taking on these challenging high-speed jobs, we’ve found, is that if you’re willing to buckle up and commit to do whatever it takes, the pay off is totally worth the effort.

Paying your dues
For the most part, the materials and inks needed for racecar wraps are the same that you would need for the average van wrap for your local plumber. But, the similarities between the vehicle- and racecar-wrap processes stop right about there. Some of the differences are obvious, but others are much less apparent.

For instance, you might think all vehicle-graphic projects begin with the estimating process, right? Not so fast – this game is different. Long before you earn the opportunity to quote anything to anyone in the top of the racing world, you better have a ridiculously impressive portfolio. Your past work must communicate that your print quality is amazing, your installers are top notch, and most importantly, that you have previously wrapped race vehicles.

So, you ask, “How are you ever going to get a shot in the racing arena if race experience is required beforehand?” Good question. We’ve given away graphics, bailed out someone in a jam – some nearby guy who races on the weekends – and began by first conquering the local race scene. At times, our only pay was in the form of putting our logo on the car or trailer. This, my friends, is called paying your dues.

I have never experienced any industry as steadfast in this rule as the racing world. Racers expect you to be one of them to work with them. You are required to understand their car, their series, the differences in classes, the racing divisions, and who the current point leader is. The industry’s leaders are very serious here, and if you try to fake the knowledge, they will find out. So, study up, attend some races, sponsor a car, and be prepared to do what it takes to earn your way in.

Preparing for the challenge
Okay, now let's talk budgets. In the world of racing, there are two kinds of budgets: shoestring and Fortune 500 (perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point). Most race vehicles are not entering NASCAR or Formula One. I would estimate that about 80 percent are up-and-comers or weekend enthusiasts.

Your shoestring-budget racers pay for their own tires, save for months to buy their trailers, and get yelled at by their spouses for spending too much time on their “hobby.” And while they may not have big-time sponsors, they will at least have some sort of sponsorship, which means they need some graphics to reciprocate the support. Because of this, our shop has determined that they can’t spend a lot of money on graphics, but purchasing the graphics is still a must. Hence, this type of racer is not really your ideal client unless you’re still paying your dues or just wanting to help them out.

On the other side of the coin are the pro teams with the Fortune 500-type budgets. These racers have big money from big companies and are responsible for ensuring that their sponsors receive maximum exposure. This is accomplished in two ways: the driver needs to win and the graphics need to make that sponsor look like a million bucks. And these clients will pay you well to ensure their sponsors are shown in the best light.

Delivering great work for a pro-race team, however, is easier said than done. You are guaranteed less than normal turnaround time because “the graphics guy can wait for the car testing to be done.” Let’s face it, the motor and suspension get more priority than the “stickers.” Along with the tight deadline, you also will be dealing with a sophisticated agency that has been tasked with the responsibility to make sure you don't screw up the graphics. The agency or corporate brand manager will require perfect color samples and detailed, professional proofs. I recommend you demand hard signatures for all of the proofs from the client – these jobs are too expensive to do twice.

Adding to the pressure is the task of accommodating the vehicle haulers, which often need to be wrapped as well. Keep in mind that when a race team garners a new sponsor, that sponsor must appear on the hauler, the “pit box,” the chase vehicles, the support vehicles, and so on. The haulers are particularly troublesome because they’re very tall, very long, and very low, which can prove to be difficult to fit in your shop.

Another challenge: the templates. These are not as cut and dried as, say, a new Ford F150 template. They’ll require you to have specific knowledge of the racecar and, again, the hauler, pit box, show body, and even the pre-runner or support vehicles.

Aiming for perfection
Have you ever noticed how a pro-race mechanic keeps his tools? They are perfect. They are clean; they are organized. And this level of perfection is exactly what your pro-race team client will be looking for in your finished product as well.

These are beyond high-profile vehicles. Think of these vehicles as celebrities about to host the Grammy Awards. They must look top notch. That means no banding, no color shifting between tiles, extremely high resolution, deep rich blacks, no wrinkles, and no bubbles or lifting. And they must be finished off with a beautiful high gloss.

After you believe you’ve achieved perfection, don’t neglect to go back over the job again –inspecting every rivet and every seam, and removing every fingerprint and grease-pencil mark. Don't make them have to inspect the work or remove your fingerprints. This type of client demands excellence and demands it be on time. Whatever you can do to limit the number of hours it will take, the better. The drivers got here by hard work – show them the respect they deserve and do whatever you can to serve their agenda. Offer them excellence, and you just may land a great client for life.

This is why we work so hard. We have taken queues from these dedicated teams and try to emulate their attention to detail in our operation. They pay well. They force you to tighten your game, and, man, do they look good in your portfolio. Keep them happy and you’ll earn great racing-day seats – and grow your business at the same time.

Jared Smith is president of bluemedia (, a leading provider of design and printing for use in vehicle, large-format, and enviornmental applications, in Tempe, Arizona.

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