One of the busiest places at any NASCAR race is pit road—particularly during a stop made under caution. Up to 43 cars may be jockeying in and out of their pit stalls at speeds ranging from 35 to 65 mph or higher.
Ask any driver and he'll tell you that with all those signs—so many of them composed primarily of the same colors—it's very difficult to see his in order to find his particular pit box for that day.
Pit road signs may change over time and may include ties to sponsor logos, driver names, and car numbers. For example, a few years ago Kyle Busch's pit road sign was a picture of the character "Kyle" from the animated show "South Park." His current pit road sign is simply the number 18.
What follows are signs found on pit road at the Pepsi 500 at the Auto Club Speedway. Not all of them were being used to direct drivers to their pit stalls—some were simply sitting along the edge of the pit box either not being used at that moment or possibly as alternate signs for different locations or situations.
Photo Credits: M Brian Ladner
Yellow is the predominant color used on most pit signs. Look up and down pit road and you'll see that a large portion of the signs are simply versions of the car number filled in with yellow.
This sign, however, doesn't use the car number, but gets its point (pun intended) across perfectly—put it right here.
That it happens to the be the same color as the most popular Post-It note doesn't hurt either (3M, the maker of Post-It notes, is one of Greg Biffle's sponsors on the No. 16 team).
Should Greg and the No. 16 team find that they are surrounded by others with pit signs too similar to the "Simple Yet Elegant" yellow arrow, the sign can always be turned around to show the Sponsor's name and to change the primary colors to white, red, and black.
Of course, where one team finds inspiration and a design that is useful (the arrow), others will follow. In doing so, they will often add their own design components—in this case, the foreground and background colors.
Many people talk about the "monkey see, monkey do" aspect of how things work in the NASCAR garage.
If one team tries something and it gives them a noticeable advantage, the next week a half-dozen or more teams will show up with the same "innovation."
For Dale Earnhardt Jr., however, this became a problem. Missing his pit stall on a few occasions throughout the year, Junior made the comment that they all look alike, and he was right. Many of the signs are simple yellow numbers.
So this was made to visually "pop" for Junior in order to ensure that he could pick his sign out of the crowd of signs more easily, with the red foreground and the yellow and black diagonal-stripe background, distinguishing it more strongly than the others.
For quite a number of years now, Michael Waltrip has had NAPA as his primary sponsor. And the relationship has worked well for them with Michael being a memorable spokesman.
So by using this sign, he can not only differentiate his sign from the others using color and shape, but he gets a plug in for his sponsor as well.
Jeff Gordon and DuPont have been associated for well over a decade. In fact, they have been his primary sponsor through his whole Sprint Cup Career.
So that his team uses DuPont's logo as their sign, especially in such a bright color, is no surprise.
Even though it might be the same color as many others, after having looked for that sign for so long, the old saying comes to mind, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Joey Logano stepped into the ride vacated by Tony Stewart at the end of the 2008 season. Home Depot remained on as the primary sponsor, and here we see part of the payback for doing so—a plug for the home improvement center every time Logano comes to his pits.
And that it's white on orange, and not yellow, doesn't hurt either.
FedEx partnered with Joe Gibbs Racing and has been the No. 11 team's sponsor for quite a few years now.
Even though Denny Hamlin's cars are generally black with a secondary color linked to a division he is representing that week, black doesn't make for a great color to pick out of a crowd.
Thus, another orange (or burnt orange) sign which takes advantage of a little different shape than many, but also the combination of black and white letters in the sponsor's name.
A company in direct competition with FedEx (from the last slide), the UPS sign takes advantage of a few different design elements to make it stand out—a lesser used combination of colors (brown & a darker yellow) as well as a distinctive shape.
Even the pattern of holes cut in the sign (to allow wind to blow through without whipping the sign around) can be useful for a driver looking for his pit sign amongst all the chaos that is pit road.
That both of Tony Stewart's main sponsors share a primary color (red) that is not as prevalent as those used on most signs on pit road was a big help for this design.
Not only could he put both of his main sponsor logos on the sign in their original colors, but he could do so in a color usually used to signify "stop."
Although not necessarily done in one of the most eye-popping colors (white on dark blue), the sign used by Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 team uses that distinction along with an unusual shape to aid him in his hunt.
Given how often the team ends up with a great qualifying effort and thus their pick of pit stalls, choosing the same ones time and again makes it all the easier.
A team could save themselves a lot of heartache by using a sign like this with so many design elements that differ from the others. Unfortunately, I'm not sure this sign was actually used by the No. 13 team at the Pepsi 500.
But it's use of the sponsor's "mascot" and name, the colors that go with those things, and the overall shape makes it a good choice for differentiating itself from the signs around it.
Some signs just fit a driver to a "T." In this case that "T" could stand for the "Tasmanian Devil," the nickname for Aussie/Tasmanian driver Marcos Ambrose.
This sign was one of the more original, but it was not in use as a yellow number "47" was dangling over their pit box.
Why it was not in use today, I'm not sure, but it could be that it's background color blended a little too strongly with the color of the buildings behind it.
Another highly recognizable symbol for a sponsor appears in this rather bright sign.
Carl Edwards and the No. 99 team have a close association this year with their sponsor Aflac, so a sign with some sponsor identification couldn't hurt.
And although pink might not be one of Aflac's primary advertising colors, it does stand out on pit road. This one stood out today in the pit box rather than over the wall, but couldn't be missed by those walking by.
Again, another sponsor tie-in provides a great opportunity for a unique sign with many attractive design elements for its function.
Tony the tiger was not hanging above the pit stall at the Pepsi 500 (the bright yellow "5" was), but he stood guard aside the pit box where his green outline, unique shape, and highly recognizable character caught the attention of many.
Clint Bowyer's new No. 33 team has a number of different "primary" sponsors, but one of their most recognizable is the helping hand from the product Hamburger Helper.
It's unique shape and relatively unique color combination combined with an easily recognizable figure all aid in giving Bowyer the helping hand he may need to find his pit stall.
Although there are two Red Bull teams, having both of them use the same sign for their pit stall would be confusing at best.
So, NSCS rookie Scott Speed and the No. 82 team use a simple number as their sign. But their teammates, Brian Vickers and the No. 83 team have been together a few years and are currently running in the Chase for the Championship.
And what better way to help Vickers find his pits than by placing this out amongst all the other signs.
It's unique shape, recognizable logo, and bright colors made it one of the easiest signs for me to spot as I walked along pit road before the race. And the sponsor plug doesn't hurt either.
Kevin "Happy" Harvick and the No. 29 team weren't using this as their actual pit stall sign today—the red and yellow number "29" sign flew instead.
But this iconic image so fits the driver's nickname "Happy" that not to have it in his pit box for passers-by to see would be a travesty.
When all else fails, especially for someone with as big a personality as Michael Waltrip, put a caricature of yourself on the sign and just look for yourself every time you come down pit road.
So when Michael is told to find himself on pit road, he takes it literally.
And being such a unique character in NASCAR, finding this amongst all the other signs has got to be easier than finding the number "55" in yellow somewhere.
I don't know the full significance behind the choice of Marvin the Martian as the choice for Juan Pablo Montoya's pit sign, but there must be a powerful reason to use this over some version of a "Target," which would tie in with his primary sponsor well.
Not since Kyle Busch used Kyle from "South Park" on his pit sign have I seen something so uniquely memorable, but that could simply be because I'm a fan of both Busch and of "South Park" and thought the play on the name for the choice of a sign was very clever.
I'm sure that if there is a hidden meaning (or a not-so-hidden one), it is a good one, but for the moment, it was by far the oddest choice for a pit sign and in being so, made it very easy to pick out of a crowd of signs.