NASCAR: The 25 Worst Styles in the History of the Sport
Come with us now on a journey through time and space...and mullets.
It's no secret that NASCAR often lends itself to some pretty egregious sins of fashion and artwork now and again...and by "now and again," I mean "pretty frequently."
Because NASCAR is often influenced by corporate sponsorship, and companies frequently can't discern a reasonable color combination if it punches them in the face and gives them a bloody nose, its drivers and teams often become victims of this, wearing hideous firesuits and driving god-awful cars.
Of course, some drivers make some poor fashion choices of their own, be they ill-advised mustaches (or lack thereof) or terrible hair coloring ideas. This is generally the only way we can pin them down themselves, as they try to avoid being photographed in many of the more hideous firesuits (and with good reason).
So grab your barf bag as we take an odyssey through some of the worst styles in the history of NASCAR. Enjoy!
Kyle Petty, 1992
What's that, you say? I've actually submitted a photo of The Very Best of Hall and Oates?
Well...yes, it seems I have, haven't I? Forgive me. It's so easy to confuse the real Kyle Petty of the early 1990s, winner of eight Winston Cup races, with famous guitarist John Oates of Hall and Oates, co-writer of six Billboard Hot 100 number ones. My bad.
Jeff Gordon, 1993
True story: Since the early days of my childhood, a Jeff Gordon poster has hung in my room, right next to the door. It features a young Gordon in the midst of his rookie season, complete with mullet, mustache and gaudy sunglasses. He was the perfect NASCAR driver, aside from the rainbow-covered car.
That man is now in the running to become the new permanent host of Live with Regis and Kelly. America: Where dreams come true.
Tim Fedewa, 1996
I've never understood why they call these things "hero cards," especially when their subjects are usually looking decidedly unheroic.
Busch Series lifer Tim Fedewa is a victim of the fashion sense of the time in this photo, looking like a high school gym teacher while being forced to drive a car that incorporates two decidedly un-Kleenex colors into its paint scheme.
Perhaps as a result of all the ugly, this team finished 20th in points that year, by far the worst full-season performance of Fedewa's career.
Bill Elliott, 1998
McDonald's had a history of...let's be nice and call them unconventional paint schemes with Bill Elliott, but this one took the cake, or perhaps the Big Mac.
It appears that this car was designed to evoke images of vomit, as in, "If you eat too many Big Macs, you will eventually vomit." The sad part is, it's even worse than when this scary heathen creation graced the hood of Elliott's car.
I don't even want to know what this firesuit looked like. I just ate and don't want my screen to look like this car.
Jeremy Mayfield, 1998
Back when he was a young, up-and-coming talent for Roger Penske's team, current NASCAR pariah Jeremy Mayfield once dyed his hair white. As in, bright white. As in, Bob Barker white.
I'm not exactly sure what the story was behind it—since, you know, I was eight—but I'm going to assume he had just seen Fight Club. That's the only plausible explanation here. You know, despite the fact that Fight Club wasn't a movie yet.
Clearly Jeremy Mayfield can see the future...and the future is a time where everybody dyes their hair white.
Dale Earnhardt, 1998
The legend goes that the Intimidator had to shave his mustache in order to go snorkeling with longtime pal Darrell Waltrip, and he showed up for Indianapolis the next week with no one the wiser.
This is believed to be the only extant photograph of a clean-shaven Dale Earnhardt; soon after it was taken, the photographer was dragged into an Indianapolis basement and chained to a wall by members of Earnhardt's crew, where he remains imprisoned to this day.
Robert Pressley, 1999
One of NASCAR's true underdog heroes, Pressley has had to resort to worse—we'll get into where he spent 1997 later in the article.
Jasper Racing had a knack for balancing out every cool thing with far more hideously ugly things. Yet somehow the combination of Pressley's firesuit with that terrible jacket is worse, to me, than any of them. Bless you, Jasper Racing; you took your one GOOD color scheme and managed to wreck it.
Dale Earnhardt, 2000
For some reason, somebody thought that the aforementioned tie-dye Big Mac car was a good idea and commissioned psychedelic artist Peter Max to do his own groovy race car.
For some even less sensible reason, it was thought that Dale Earnhardt would make the ultimate representative for such a paint scheme.
For merciful reasons, no photographs of Earnhardt in a Peter Max firesuit exist.
Jeff Burton, 2001
I'm not sure who thought it was a good idea to put a ray of sunshine on Jeff Burton's firesuit, because he looks like anything BUT a ray of sunshine in this photo.
Not that you can blame him. He's being forced to wear green and orange in order to moonlight and get extra track time in the Busch Series, and that seems like a pretty bad trade-off. I wouldn't do it.
Another case of the horrible hero card curse: Burton only won one race in 2001 after a career-high four in 2000.
Derrike Cope, 2002
When Derrike Cope was running his own Winston Cup team in the early 2000s, he had to resort to an array of...let's be nice and call them creative sponsorship deals in order to keep his team afloat.
The green on this car, sponsored by rock band Poison, was actually a lot brighter in person than the photo suggests.
The car was primarily designed to keep fans awake through a typically-boring-as-hell 500-mile event at Pocono, made even more boring as hell by the fact that it was the longest day ever. Cope eventually failed at this, his lone goal, his engine grenading after 154 laps of the completed 175.
Ken Schrader, 2003
For seven miserable races over the course of the 2003 season, Carrot Top gave other drivers—as well as small children—nightmares by "gracing" the hood of BAM Racing's No. 49 Dodge.
Other drivers frequently pulled out of Schrader's way to evade the haunting image of the redheaded prop comedian making his "O-face."
Little did they know that the future version of Carrot Top would be even scarier. Not for the same reasons, mind you. The new Carrot Top could probably come up with 45 ways to kill you with only ONE of those ridiculous biceps.
Ken Schrader, 2008
Schrader and BAM would be up to their old tricks once again five years later, this time painting their car in the ridiculous color scheme of some health website that nobody has ever heard of and probably bounced its sponsorship check anyway.
Last year, the team would even do one better by securing the likeness of Larry the Cable Guy for use on their car. This BAM sponsorship coup may never be topped...and remember, these are the people who put a swan and Billy Ray Cyrus on their race car. True marketing geniuses of their time, those folk.
Jeff Gordon, 2009
Well...this one isn't that bad, really. It's sort of a stand-in for a photo I could not locate of Gordon, where his hair was even SHORTER, making him look like a disgruntled 50-year-old man with hair loss issues. It was bad. You'll just have to take my word for it.
Erik Darnell, 2009
Darnell was a longtime Truck Series and Nationwide Series driver for Jack Roush before moving up to Sprint Cup with Hall of Fame Racing as Bobby Labonte's replacement for seven races at the end of the 2009 season.
He got the ride for two reasons: stellar Truck performances, including two wins and fourth in the 2008 standings, and his resemblance to Roush's old friend Groucho Marx.
Unfortunately, Roush no longer recognized Darnell after he removed the fake mustache, nose and glasses, and he's only run three Nationwide events since.
David Ragan, 2010
The sad thing about UPS in NASCAR (besides their relatively mediocre returns on continued big investments) is, despite having some of the cleanest-looking firesuits in the sport, they routinely have the worst paint schemes on track.
It's not because their primary color is brown—it's because they frequently don't know what the hell they're doing when they design a paint scheme.
Instead of repeatedly burning your eyes as I did with the Jasper team, I'll just let this bad boy stand as a representative of 10 or so years of artistic futility. UPS may love logistics, but I love my eyesight.
UPS Truck, 2007
OK, OK, I couldn't resist. Here's one.
John Andretti, 2010
Niche Daytona 500 sponsor Window World upped their 2010 race commitment from one car to two, putting Boris Said in one hideous vehicle and Andretti in the other.
I posit that if Window World really cared, they wouldn't have subjected us to one of the ugliest color combinations in the history of ugly color combinations.
Mike Bliss, 2010
Okay, I confess. If I got to put my arm around Kim Kardashian for a weekend in Vegas, I'd wear pink and promote her fragrance too. But still. We really shouldn't be admitting that, lest we get any ideas. Although she is single. But she dates around. But she's got a nice body...
I'm a little conflicted right now. Let me get back to you.
Scott Speed, 2010
After an ill-advised and unscientific Twitter poll sealed his fate, the eccentric Red Bull driver showed up to Bristol with his typical dirty blond hair dyed black and blue.
Fitting, as frequent mishandling of his career by Red Bull pretty much left his career in those colors too. Speed's got no ride for this season anywhere, having been bumped by Kasey Kahne from his TRB seat.
In response, he's filed a breach of contract lawsuit...that will be hard to take seriously if he dyes his hair like that ever again.
Tony Stewart, 2010
This car took to the track at Charlotte last fall in one of Tony Stewart's final races for Old Spice at the end of a decade-long relationship that saw Smoke win plenty of races for the Proctor & Gamble brand.
But if shifting marketing dollars away to the most brilliant advertising campaign in history wasn't a big enough middle finger, they had to add insult to injury by forcing Stewart to drive a car that looked like Christmas in deodorant form. And losing your sponsor? That's decidedly not Christmas.
Kyle Busch, 2010
Yes, I understand the joke: The car is supposed to be the way it is because a little girl designed it in a commercial. Whatever.
I, personally, am not a fan of kittens, puppies and little baby seals, and while I would not go so far as to club little baby seals, I might consider clubbing the person who thought it would be a good idea to remove this vehicle from the commercial world and put it into the real world.
Some things just belong in commercials. Like the Old Spice Guy.
Kyle Busch, 2010, Pt. Deux
But while the "Sponsafier" car has an explanation behind it, this...does not. Rowdy's trying on his grandpa hat about 50 years too early.
Now, we've gone through quite a bit of bad NASCAR styling so far, but to finish off, I'd like to bring you through a special branch of hell that I like to call...
Cartoon Network: Wacky Racing!
For five miserable, ill-fated years from 1996 to 2000, Ted Turner decided to inject his blood money directly into NASCAR's main artery—its race teams.
Turner was already broadcasting races on his TBS station, so there was no need to promote that. Instead, the sugar-buzzed "Cartoon Network Wacky Racing" concept was born, swapping paint schemes what seemed like every other week to reflect the minuscule attention span of the young television connoisseur.
The alumni read like a who's who of NASCAR faces...that have been completely forgotten. Robert Pressley. Jeff Green. Jerry Nadeau. Wally Dallenbach. Lake Speed. Gary Bechtel. Mark Melling. And who can forget Darwin Oordt?
This jacket represents only ONE of the numerous embarrassing artifacts of this time period. Read on.
The Bechtel Years
Diamond Ridge Motorsports first secured the Cartoon Network deal in 1996, rotating a stupid number of drivers through a bright yellow Flintstones-themed vehicle.
In 1997, the scheme switched to Scooby-Doo-based, a dark purple affair that Pressley left for dead after three DNQs. Green finished out the season.
In fact, the car above never raced. It's somebody's model, having put the decals over a different base. But to be completely honest with you, it's actually less ugly than the ones that did, albeit marginally. You're welcome.
The Melling Years
Poor Jerry Nadeau. His career was chock-full of terrible luck—from struggles with the traditionally mediocre No. 25 Hendrick Motorsports car to the crash that effectively ended his Winston Cup career in 2003.
He took over the famed No. 9 at Melling Racing midway through 1998 after Lake Speed retired due to sternum injuries.
Unfortunately, it was his second ridiculous-looking team of the year after he spent the first half of the season with Dan Marino's subpar venture into team ownership. Nadeau had to go through more uniform changes than a baby with diarrhea.
I'm still not sure the Internet has a comprehensive catalog of how many paint schemes Melling was blessed with over those two years, but I bet the folks applying the paint and decals demanded a lot of raises.
The Galaxy Year
Turner mercifully scaled down Cartoon Network's presence in NASCAR for 2000, when the sponsorship moved to the former Rahmoc team, now in the hands of Darwin Oordt and renamed Galaxy Motorsports.
Instead, Turner began to shift sponsorship to other properties of his, such as TBS' Dinner and a Movie and WCW broadcasts. (Yes, I called a shift to WCW sponsorship "merciful." Deal with it.)
The partnership lasted one miserable year before the team dissolved, and Cartoon Network Wacky Racing left the sport forever. Good riddance.