NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Reel Racing: The Best (& Worst) Movie Paint Schemes of the 2000s, Pt. 1

Before the hopefully mostly normal 2021 NASCAR season gets underway, we’ll take a two-part look at NASCAR’s assortment of movie-themed liveries from the 2000s.

Let’s also hope that this upcoming year is better for the aforementioned movie schemes; exactly zero ran in the COVID-19-impacted 2020 season, the first time since 1995 that none hit the track. However, the thriller Unhinged did sponsor the 300-mile Xfinity Series event at Talladega; having recently watched the movie, it’s every bit as chaotic as a Talladega race and an incredibly fun, sometimes brutal ride (just like Talladega).

I took care of the 1990s and 2010s (which needed a part two) in November to kick off the offseason, and I’ll effectively conclude the three-month hiatus with the 2000s. Today, we’ll look at numbers 6-10, some lacking schemes that rank far down the list and some oddities. Tomorrow’s second part will wrap up the top 10 and feature some honorable mentions.

A stunning 77 cars and trucks carried a total of 52 different film sponsors throughout the decade, kicking off with two on Jimmy Spencer’s No. 26 (Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, starring Jim Carrey, as well as the Brendan Fraser sequel The Mummy Returns) and concluding with a trio of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen schemes in 2009. Weirdly, two of them were promoting the film’s release on DVD and Blu-Ray. Only Kyle Busch‘s Sonoma Raceway scheme advertised the movie when it was actually slated for theaters.

The 2000s are more or less the golden age for these schemes in NASCAR. The previous decade of the 1990s featured less than 20 schemes (just nine movies between them, and that’s if you count the cars used to film Days of Thunder) and the following saw less than 50 on the track (37 total movies). The 2010s had a significant drop in multi-car sponsorships, ending up with many one-offs or one-car-backing deals.

As before, this ranking will consolidate multiple schemes for certain movies together to keep things as fair as possible, but some wrenches even entered that mix; for example, take the third Star Wars prequel installment, Revenge of the Sith. In 2005, four cars featured the film: Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch for Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler for Robert Yates Racing. Even though the former pair had very different schemes, the latter duo had similar-looking cars (each themed for the Jedi and Sith, respectively), so I took that into consideration as well.

10. Hendrick Motorsports (Jeff Gordon & Kyle Busch), Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

I already went into some depth about my process about how I separated Hendrick and Yates’ schemes for the prequel trilogy’s grand finale, and I’ll add that it’s the only film of the three I remember most of. It’s been more than five years since I’ve seen the three movies, but I have extreme nostalgia for Episode III and came close to re-watching it last year before deciding to wait until I watched the entire franchise in its entirety (Rise of Skywalker is an immense disaster of a film, but that’s a debate for another time).

Hendrick’s schemes for the movie are head-and-shoulders above Yates’, though the latter has its plusses; the Nos. 38 and 88 had a nice, simplistic change to their normal M&M-covered wraps, themed for the sides of light and dark and featuring some M&Ms in clone trooper gear and Jedi robes.

However, it doesn’t get any better than Gordon and Busch, whose cars were also mostly Jedi- and Sith-themed but also depicted actual characters from the movie and were much more eye-catching. Busch’s car gets the edge in design points, but Gordon’s was the first movie-themed car in the Cup Series to ever go to victory lane (Kevin Harvick won a 2003 Camping World Truck Series race at Phoenix Raceway while sponsored by Looney Tunes: Back in Action) when he won from the front row at Talladega Superspeedway.

Busch’s car ran at Richmond Raceway two weeks later, where he finished fourth. And, while Gordon’s car featured some stellar design and Yoda on the hood, Busch’s car was wrapped with a border of Mustafar’s lava. Darth Vader himself graced the hood, with the finale-hosting planet behind him, while the right side featured Mace Windu and a clone trooper and the left boasted Yoda and Chewbacca.

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker ended up flaking the Kellogg’s logo on the back bumper, forever locked in their climactic duel, while C-3PO and R2-D2 completed the ensemble with a trunk lid appearance. Busch’s seems to have been overlooked by many (including myself), so it gets the nod for first billing in this article.

9. Dave Blaney & Scott Wimmer, The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

It boggles my mind that just three of the Fast and the Furious franchise’s films have been featured on NASCAR rides; Furious 7 ended up sponsoring the Xfinity Series’ 2015 event at Chicagoland Speedway, but only three made it onto actual cars. Robby Gordon piloted a Fast Five machine for several races in 2011, but it doesn’t come close to the pairing of cars at Dover International Speedway in 2003.

The Xfinity Series ran on May 31. Scott Wimmer’s No. 23 finished 15th, but you’d be forgiven if you didn’t expect it to win the race by about 20 laps. Wimmer’s Stacker 2 Chevrolet for Bill Davis Racing was outfitted with decals to match 2 Fast 2 Furious character Brian O’Conner’s (Paul Walker) Mitsubishi Evo VII, down to the rhombus designs on the doors.

Dave Blaney had his own speedy and angry (get it?) ride the next day. Even though The Fast and the Furious was released two years prior, Blaney’s No. 77 resembled O’Conner’s 1993 Toyota Supra from the first film, including the green-and-silver arm exhaust detailing on the sides (albeit much further back). Blaney finished 20th.

It would’ve been interesting, though, to see the No. 77 mocked up like character Roman Pearce’s (Tyrese Gibson) purple Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder from the second installment. It also would’ve made sense, considering both cars are involved in a high-speed pursuit in the midst of the film.

8. Brendan Gaughan, The Punisher (2004)

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Brendan Gaughan was arguably one of the most entertaining personalities during his time in NASCAR, and — for the second spot in a row on this list — the No. 77 Penske-Jasper Racing Dodge makes an appearance.

Thomas Jane (61*, The Mist, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) starred in the 2004 film adaptation of Marvel’s character Punisher. It’s not a groundbreaking film by any means, but it made for a killer (literally) scheme on Gaughan’s car. From the presumable blood spatters to the prominent skull and the eye-catching numbers, this settles in comfortably to eighth on this list.

7. Elliott Sadler, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Stacy Compton had a 33rd-place run in 2003 at Daytona with a scheme promoting the first film in the franchise, which was solid enough but paled in comparison to this M&M’s-themed masterpiece.

In the 10th race of the season, at Richmond, Sadler debuted a one-off partnership between the longtime candy sponsor and the second film in the Johnny Depp-, Keira Knightley- and Orlando Bloom-propelled series. Technically promoting White Chocolate M&M’s Pirate Pearls (thanks, Racing Reference), the scheme worked in familiar images from the films: beaches, treasure chests, burning torches, pirate bandanas with little trinkets attached, the works. Also present were three M&M characters as the scourges of the sea, but it’s the serene beaches lining the car’s sides that made it special.

Twitter ended up denying me a photo of the actual car, so a diecast picture will have to do.

6. Bill Lester, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

It was hard to not put this in the top five, but sixth will do fine for Will Ferrell.

Ferrell and Adam McKay — both alums of Saturday Night Live — teamed up to create the 2006 comedy, which helped bring NASCAR itself to a more mainstream audience, albeit by stereotyping a lot of the sport. Along with Cars (later on in this list), the two movies were released within months of each other and brought racing to audiences of kids, teens and adults alike.

Bill Lester only ran this one, in the July race at Kentucky Speedway, and it’s bizarre that the film didn’t end up on some Cup rides as well. However, Lester’s truck more or less replicated the iconic Wonder Bread scheme that Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby drives during part of the film, along with Ferrell’s character’s likeness behind the door numbers.

Dishonorable Mentions

One trend that has been prevalent during both the 2000s and 2010s of movie cars has been hood sponsors, where very little effort (or money) is put into a promotional scheme and an upcoming movie instead ends up on just the hood of a car.

The only photographic example I could find of five separate cars is below: Scary Movie 3 ended up (very tiny) on the hood of Sterling Marlin’s Coors Light car in 2003, paired with the Coors Light Twins from the company’s advertising at the time. Additionally, the comedy The Benchwarmers was on the hood of Kenny Wallace’s Furniture Row Racing car at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which failed to qualify for the race (in arguably the worst movie scheme of the entire decade).

The biggest example of hood sponsorship, though, rests with the Roger Staubach- and Troy Aikman-owned Hall of Fame Racing, which featured three movies in this fashion between 2007 and 2008.

Rush Hour 3 was the first, ending up on Tony Raines’ car at Pocono Raceway. In fairness, star Chris Tucker attended the race and posed for photos with Raines and the car prior to the event.

JJ Yeley took the reins of the No. 96 in 2008 and had two sponsorships during the year: the horror film Mirrors, which backed the car at Pocono, and Journey to the Center of the Earth, another Brendan Fraser vehicle, sponsored the car at Daytona in July. The latter failed to qualify.

Odds and Ends

Bobby LabonteThe Passion of the Christ (2004)

By far, the 2004 Mel Gibson-directed Passion of the Christ might be the weirdest movie sponsor in NASCAR.

Kicking off the season for the team in the Daytona 500, Labonte finished 11th. It would’ve been pretty interesting if the team stuck with the trend of characters being featured on the sides of cars; possibly with a Jim Caviezel in robes on one side and with a crown of thorns on the other?

Either way, it’s a bizarre sponsorship from the movie that ended up being the third-highest-grossing film of 2004. Also odd is the design, which was confined to only the hood and the roof (?) for reasons unknown.

Martin Truex Jr.Swing Vote (2008)

This car was a first for me when I started researching movie schemes – honestly, so was the movie. I had never seen the car nor heard of the movie before in my life, despite watching way too many films in general. To my understanding, Swing Vote is a poorly received 2008 comedy released to tie in with the same year’s presidential race between eventual president Barack Obama and John McCain.

I guess it was a no-brainer that it appeared on Truex’s car. Bass Pro Shops is on Kevin Costner’s character’s had in various stills I can find of the movie online, so it figures that it would translate to their NASCAR sponsorship.

It’s a nice scheme, if a little busy; Costner, the movie title and the Bass Pro logo all crammed in on the hood might be a bit too much, but the crowded sides don’t really detract from the red-and-blue overall aesthetic.

Jamie McMurray & Michael WaltripTerminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Yet another cross-series sponsorship, the third installment in the Terminator franchise (and first since 1991’s excellent Judgment Day) was sent back by Skynet to appear on two cars: Jamie McMurray’s No. 42 Cup Series ride at Daytona and Michael Waltrip’s No. 99 Busch Series car at both Daytona and Chicagoland. McMurray ended up 37th; Waltrip finished second and fifth, respectively.

I know I sure wouldn’t want a car with the T-101 (or Arnold Schwarzenegger himself) bearing down in my rear-view.

Mark MartinBatman Begins (2005)

This isn’t really an odd sponsorship by any means, since Batman has consistently appeared on NASCAR bodies over the years, but this is more about the scheme than the sponsorship.

While, oddly, The Dark Knight was never featured on a car, the first and third installments of Christopher Nolan’s gritty trilogy were. The initial installment was Batman Begins, an excellent dive into the origins of the DC character, and it made its way onto Mark Martin’s car for the Batman Begins 400 at Michigan in June of 2005. This was the first time that a film sponsored a race.

The scheme just doesn’t really fit the movie as a whole; it has the Gotham skyline, the Dark Knight’s emblem and even a gigantic Batman standing watch over Martin and Ricky Craven beside it, but something feels slightly off about it.

Next Up

Tomorrow wraps up the decade-by-decade breakdown and ranking of movie schemes with the second half of the 2010s. Additionally, this finale takes a look at some honorable mentions that just missed the top 10, as well as a wrap-up of the history of movie schemes.

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