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Motorsports Designs Takes Pole Position

North Carolina operation is prime graphics producer for the professional racing circuit.



What sporting event has all its customers typically going to the same event at the same time, needing all the graphics at once, and also frequently needing replacement? The answer: car racing, and these challenges have forced the hand of some highly inventive shops to develop ways to work around the issues.

More than 40 cars start every race”?each a moving billboard on television for up to 4 hours for the cars' sponsors. Each car's sponsors want highly visual graphics that can do a good job of touting their products”?both live and on camera. And all the graphics must hold up under some of the most harrowing conditions.

John McKenzie, owner of Motorsports Designs in High Point, NC, knows all these challenges well, and his company is now in the pole position when it comes to producing car graphics for the professional racing circuit.

McKenzie founded his company back in 1982 with a single car he did for Richard Childress Racing (RCR) sponsored by Piedmont Airlines. By the end of that year, Motorsports was doing more than half the cars in the race. The company blossomed from there and, today, McKenzie employs 45 workers and has a shop that comprises 23,000 sq ft of space. Motorsports Designs prepares several cars just for RCR, its first customer–three Nextel Cup race cars, one part-time Nextel race car, and two Busch race cars. It also works on cars for Penske South, Roush Racing, Ganassi Racing, and many other racing teams”?more than 20 cars in all. “We do Indy car, drag racing, and sportscar racing”?but NASCAR is our primary market,” says McKenzie.

A shot of controversy
“Historically, teams wanted to paint the race cars and use cut graphics as accents,” says McKenzie. “But nowadays, teams rely heavily on decals and other vinyl graphics such as striping. Even with the buzz about our RaceWraps, which we pioneered for the Nextel Cup Series, many teams stick to die-cut decals because of their endurance and simplicity of application.”

A typical NASCAR car, says McKenzie, has approximately 85 to 95 percent its surface covered in graphics. For the NASCAR racing season, Motorsports produces 35 or more sets of a teams' standard graphics for each race car. For “high risk” areas such as the B-posts”?the area between the windows”?it produces 100 sets because these areas tend to get damaged most often.


With most teams having between 12 and 15 cars, Motorsports Designs stays busy”?they strive to stay two or three races ahead in their preparation so they're not having to turn the cars around from one Sunday to the next Sunday. But all cars receive their fair share of damage during every race, an each has to returned to immaculate condition for the following week.

For the cut-graphic decals applied directly to a car's painted body, Motorsports Designs uses a combination of printers, including Gerbers and Mimakis, all in conjunction with MacTac series JT5829 vinyl. “We have the Gerbers for the very, very small associate sponsor decals. We use the Mimaki JV3-160s to do the large decals, and we have the Mimaki JV3-75SPII that we use for the little decals,” says McKenzie.

Once output, the cut-vinyl graphics are finished with an LF3681 series laminate and applied with a Seal 62 Pro cold laminator. Following the printing and laminating process, the graphics are contour-cut using one of the company's three Zund 1600 Series flatbed cutter/plotters.

If the company is not able to digitally create some cut-graphic colors”?such as metallics and Day-Glo”?it puts its three manual screen-printing workstations to work. “There are a tremendous amount of colors that you cannot achieve with a digital printer,” says McKenzie. “And that's what gives us an advantage over our competitors”?we still screen print. You can't tell Anheuser-Busch that you can't print gold, so if we need to print gold, we screen print.”

One of the most heralded examples of Motorsports Designs' NASCAR decal work: the Jack Daniels racecar that premiered in last year's racing season. The #07 Jack Daniels car in the Nextel Cup series was the first hard-liquor sponsor in NASCAR history to get its name on a racecar, as the racing organization went off the wagon and approved distilled-spirits to be car sponsors. And although other liquor companies have since followed”?Jim Beam and Crown Royal, for instance, now have their names on cars speeding around the track”?the Jack Daniels car was the first of the breed and, as such, caused more than a little controversy.

“By the time the job got to us,” says McKenzie, “the legalities about the trademarks and the register marks and what had to be on the car”?there's a sentence in there about responsibility that's in the tagline”?had already been worked out by RCR and by Jack Daniels' marketing company. We had to make sure that the legal taglines were on there. We'd been through that for years and years with the tobacco products, and this was similar to that.”


Jack Daniels had the rights to graphics on the quarter panel, hood, and rear panel (aka the “TV panel”) as well as the race car's trunk. In addition, the sponsor had Motorsports create a printed graphic on the underside of the hood (of company founder, Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel).

For this year's racing season, Motorsports was asked to redesign the Jack Daniels graphics. “Instead of using the words 'Jack Daniels' in the logo on the hood, the only thing they wanted on the hood this year was the word, 'Jack,' so that it shows up a whole lot better on television. They refer to their product as 'Jack,” instead of Jack Daniels”?just as people refer to 'Bud' instead of 'Budweiser.'”

Bumper to bumper
Beyond cut graphics, Motorsports Designs also produces RaceWraps”?bumper-to-bumper racecar wraps. The RaceWraps are typically used on backup racecars to cover the decals that have already been applied to the base paint underneath the wrap.

“They always take two cars to a race in case they wreck the first car in practice or qualifying,” says McKenzie. “A lot of the backup cars are wrapped to match the scheme of the primary car. “We build into the wrap all the logos and numbers and all the specifics that go with the car. And we take a painted or primered car and wrap it bumper-to-bumper so it's race-ready. We can even wrap over an existing decal package.”

For its wraps, Motorsports utilizes one of the company's four Oce Arizona 180 solvent inkjets, outputting onto 3M Scotchprint 180c “Comply” material. A Seal 62 Pro cold laminator is used to apply a 3M Scotchprint 8519 luster overlaminate. This overlaminate, says McKenzie, protects the graphics from the sandblasting effect that debris from the racetrack could do to them, as well as rubber from the tires and the abrasive chemicals that the race team uses to wipe down the cars.

At present, the company employs seven full-time 3M Certified Scotchprint installers who travel to race shops across the country to install the RaceWraps. But taking a cue from its cut-graphics applications, where the decals are shipped to the race teams for self-installation, McKenzie says he's now looking to go this route with the wraps as well: “The trend is for us to train the teams' bodyshop guys”?the ones that paint the cars”?how to install the wraps themselves, and/or unwrap them.”


Outside the oval
Despite the amount of racing-related work, the company does”?it's no longer a seasonal sport, says McKenzie, running 11 months out of 12″?it set up a separate division in 2001: MDC Graphics. MDC, which stands for Motorsports Designs Commercial, caters to the commercial vehicle graphics industry, and does wraps for commercial vans, tractor trailers, and even school buses. The two divisions have two different sales forces, but share the same production facility and staff.

Motorsports also has a “creative services” department with two creative artists who are dedicated strictly to designing race-car schemes and tractor-trailer schemes. “Sometimes we even design the driver uniforms,” adds McKenzie.

The commercial business complements the company's racing business, says McKenzie: “Someday it will 50/50. But right now the racing business is the majority of our business.”


Editor's Note: In May of this year, Motorsports Designs was acquired by Vomela Specialty Company of St. Paul, MN. Vomela is a producer of screen-printed and digitally printed graphics for large-format murals, recreational vehicles, and visual merchandising systems. Motorsports Designs will continue to service customers from its High Point, NC, facilities with John McKenzie as chairman and CEO and 10-year veteran Kip Johnson as president. They will be integrating Vomela's capabilities into MotorSports Designs' offerings.



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