One of my favorite parts of NASCAR racing is taking in the aesthetics of the cars themselves, going back to the simple-but-sweet looks of the early years to the elaborate, multi-colored paint schemes of today. I love looking at a car's scheme and dissecting every aspect of it - its design, how well a sponsor's color palette was utilized, and logo placement. Each of those variables is important to making a good-looking race car. For instance, the schemes of Dale Jarrett's UPS-sponsored Fords and Toyotas did a great job of incorporating the company's colors, had sharp designs even at their most simple, and featured crisp, clean logo placement that looked right at home. And yet, some people were griping about the cars and calling them ugly because of the heavy use of brown. It's a UPS car, what in the heck were you expecting?
Race cars are like women, beyond just being the two greatest things on God's earth (I'll leave it to you to decide the order on that, though). What is of the absolute and utmost importance is what is on the inside, be it a heart of gold or a 750-horsepower engine. A nice exterior certainly doesn't hurt things. You can seldom go wrong with a simple look, but being a bit flashy or elegant can be great too. Just beware of adding a bit too much makeup.
When you hit the right combination, "goddess" would be an apt description. And when it comes to NASCAR race cars, an apt description of those driven by four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon would be "Aphrodite on wheels."
Jeff has never driven a bad-looking race car. Sure, it helps that his longtime sponsor is a paint company, but that didn't save Greg Biffle's Sherwin-Williams car from a few years back. No matter what sponsor has appeared on the No. 24 Chevrolet, the car has looked as good as it has performed. Even his Pepsi cars have looked great, and that is a considerable statement coming from a committed Coke man born-and-bred in the great state of Georgia, homeland of Coca-Cola. Hey, maybe Pepsi should stick to pretty race cars and leave the cola business to the experts.
What has made Jeff's cars such works of art? Well, for starters, they are literally works of art. Sam Bass, the very first officially-licensed NASCAR artist, has had a hand in designing most if not all of the cars the No. 24 team has taken to the race track. Sam's creations have consistently placed check marks next to each item I outlined in the first paragraph. The designs, while always elaborate, have never been gaudy. You could take nearly every paint scheme Jeff has run and paint it in another sponsor's colors and add their logos and you would still have a great looking car.
Then there is the matter of color. Oh my, the color. If you truly love the entirety of the color spectrum, a look back through Gordon's paint schemes is like being a fat kid with the key to Willy Wonka's factory. Blue, red, yellow, green, purple, they've all shown up on Jeff's car at some point or another in the most gorgeous of fashions. The hallmark of Gordon's machines almost always has been bright, bold fluorescent color. When done wrong, these hues can be a quite literal pain on the eyes. When done right, they can set a person's brain ablaze with passion. Jeff's DuPont and now Axalta rides are serial cerebral arsonists.
The deep, dark metallic red of Jeff's AARP/Drive To End Hunger car is equally gorgeous, and the black that has been used for nearly all of Jeff's rides since 2009 has given each scheme a strong foundation. Before that, of course, Gordon was synonymous with blue. Starting with his first Cup race at Atlanta in 1992 and going through the 2008 season finale in Miami, the blue base gave a cooling effect to the bold, searing reds and yellows (or Hot Hues, as DuPont called them) to create a perfect mixture of color. This allowed both blue cars, the Rainbow Warrior from '92 through 2000 and the Fire and Flames he raced from 2001 through '08, to look just as great as they were performing.
Heck, the 24 team has even made green look good, which is no small feat when it comes to race cars. The Nicorette scheme Jeff raced a couple times each in 2007 and 2008 is best known for being the car he had his brutal '08 Las Vegas crash in, but it looked beautiful even as it was on its way into that unprotected backstretch wall. Featuring bright yellow and green flames on a metallic green base, it is one of the few cars (Bobby Labonte's Interstate Batteries cars and Harry Gant's Skoal Bandit, to name a couple of the other rare exceptions) to break a standard of mediocrity for the color of money.
Of course, you can't talk about Jeff Gordon and paint schemes without bringing up Chroma-Lusion, DuPont's paint that created the illusion that the car was changing colors before our very eyes. It was like nothing anyone had even seen before at a race, and even Gordon's most fervent detractors had to take a second look. It's been years since the 24 team rolled a Chroma-Lusion car out of their transporter at the race track, but with Jeff running as good as ever right now, maybe Axalta will bring the scheme back in the not-too-distant future and wow us all over again. I sure hope so.
Finally, you have the issue of good logo placement. This is pretty cut and dry; either a race car has it or it doesn't, and about the only way to tell is when it doesn't (like Kyle Busch's Snickers Bites car from 2013...what the heck were they thinking?). I've only questioned the logos on Jeff's car one time that I can think of, that being this year's Drive to End Hunger car. The D with the fork design looks good, but flipped 90 degrees on the hood, it looks like a U. This is but a minor complaint and one that could be swept under the carpet if AARP would utilize the U as part of the DTEH initiative (as in "U Can Help" or something). Still, with the track record the 24 cars have in the looks department, even the mildest discrepancy is going to stand out. Hey, we've got to have something to criticize, don't we?
The kicker to all this gushing I've done over Jeff's cars? I'm not even a Jeff Gordon fan. Oh, believe me, I have all the respect in the world for his achievements and I greatly admire him both inside and outside of the race car. The things he does for charity, especially for children, are wonderful, and he just seems like genuinely good fellow who you'd like to Share a Coke with (sorry, had to do it). And anyone that break dances in front of his peers and an online audience of the entire NASCAR fanbase - like he did at After the Lap during Champions Week in 2011 - is pretty awesome. I don't actively root for him, but I also don't actively root against him (at least not like I did in the late '90s, but that is a story for another day). If somebody I do root for beats him, it's very gratifying. In a way it is like your favorite baseball team beating the New York Yankees in the World Series (something my Atlanta Braves couldn't do in three tries in the 1990s). You may gloat out loud, but inside you better be thankful and savor the moment, because your team has just beaten the best.
Despite the fact that he isn't on my list of favorites, I have more 1/64-scale Jeff Gordon diecast than of any driver not named Tony Stewart or Bill Elliott. That's one of the best parts about a great looking race car, be it Jeff's or anyone else's. You can buy your own miniature version to look at and enjoy till the cows come home for a fraction of a percentage of the hundred-grand real deal. There's still a bit of room for expansion in my Gordon collection - I will be adding his 2014 Axalta car, which might be my favorite scheme of his yet, very soon - but I already have a quite a few of the beauties he's taken to the track (and often to victory lane). Every one of them stand out among the rest, appealing to my senses the instant I my eye crosses them.
With 91 wins and counting (and no sign of letting up), Jeff Gordon is well-established statistically as the greatest winner in NASCAR's modern era. All 91 of those victories have come in some of the finest works of art to hit a race track in the sport's history. Hey, if you're going to do great things, you should look great doing it, right? Jeff has certainly done that for 21 years and counting.