How did we get from simple designs in NASCAR’s early days to rainbows, flames and throwback weekends? NASCAR.com took a look at the history and evolution of paint schemes along with the rise of special-edition looks, with Jeff Gordon’s iconic design playing a part.
In May of 1992, Ray Evernham visited artist Sam Bass to buy a gift for Jeff Gordon, the young driver for whom Evernham would serve as crew chief starting with one race at the end of that season. Evernham had in mind a track program Bass had designed. Bass gave him the program for free in exchange for Evernham giving him a chance to design Gordon’s car.
Bass drew up two versions of the car, and on the morning of the deadline, as he drove to work, he had an idea for a third. He envisioned a car promoting the fact DuPont (now Axalta Coating Systems) paint offered an array of colors.
“I was thinking about the (DuPont) oval on the hood and how the lines above it would naturally form a rainbow,” Bass, who died in February, told Autoweek. “I knew the moment I drew it, that this was the one.”
DuPont reviewed 43 submissions for Gordon’s car and chose Bass’s rainbow design.
“I thought the guys in the body shop were going to kill me when they saw it because they knew how difficult it was going to be to paint,” Bass said. “But to their credit, they did it, and they were so proud of it.”
The bright colors did present one problem: They faded and had to be redone often.
Just as the black fit Earnhardt’s persona, the rainbow fit Gordon’s — it looked young, fresh, hopeful. The contrast between Gordon’s rainbow and Earnhardt’s black lined up perfectly with the contrast between the men who drove them. Fresh versus grizzled, youth versus experience, goody-two-shoes versus villain.
“It certainly changed my life forever as a race car driver to come to Hendrick Motorsports and having a paint scheme that now, looking back on it, was so iconic,” Gordon said. “There’s a certain magic that Sam Bass brings to your race car when he designs it.”