Race cars: Graphics at high speed

By Bob Behounek

Posted on Friday, July 14th, 2023

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A good friend once alerted me to an online source devoted to Santa Fe Park, a stock-car racing track in nearby Hinsdale, Illinois. Though the track is not in existence anymore, there was information, memories, photos from all the eras, and even a link to the great sign painters who were so instrumental in the art of racecar lettering at this venue.

America is a great country, and auto racing is certainly a part of our heritage. There have been so many people involved in automobile racing over the years. With this excitement came a few that loved the blend of racing with art—sign art that is. Every racecar lettering artist has his or her own story, I’m sure. They followed racing from track to track, looking for the ultimate car to letter, the cool sponsors and use of all the latest lettering trends. They were always trying to outdo one another.

Out of this experience came a torrent of inspiration, a creative explosion. I can’t remember another time when there were so many creative people brushing to the ultimate expressions in car art. It could absorb the artist’s emotions immediately, giving one another an instant high.

I’ll never forget the script I saw on a certain car’s front fender that changed my life. When I saw it, I knew I had to learn how to paint letters. I didn’t realize how controlling this would be. A passion began to drive me into this lettering frenzy. Colors, designs, shapes and splashes were all I dreamed about. Believe it or not, this all became a sort of subculture. Someone should do a survey to count how many sign painters were born at the racetracks across North America.

It never occurred to me what all this would do to me for the rest of my life. I guess when you’re young and have little responsibility, all you can think about is the present. As I look back at it now, I can see the impact it had on me and other lettering artists. Their individual stories would crisscross one another across the spectrum of life.

Most of us are still at it some 40 years later. We all went down similar, but different paths. I was fortunate to meet up with Ken Millar and Wally Zimmer, two master craftsmen who took me into an apprenticeship that molded my sign-painting career. These two guys were never selfish or impatient with me. They taught me fundamentals and design, and they gave me a mass amount of inspiration to last a lifetime—not to mention a real strong sense of humor to boot! I think that’s essential in this business.

The inspiration that came from all those lettering guys at the racetrack was monumental. Thanks for all you did and every bit of energy exhibited in the finished products. I feel bad that I couldn’t officially thank the guy who painted the script that changed my life. It’s kind of funny how things work out, though. I don’t know where I’d be today without that script.

Here are some of my racecar projects from many eras. All are hand lettered. I hope sign people will continue to inspire one another and take this fun trade into the distant future the same way as in the distant past.

Remember that racecars were always painted under all kinds of interesting conditions—sometimes while mechanics were tuning up the engine or changing the tires, or even while the car was on the way to the track. How many times has someone on the pit crew leaned over the fender only to end up with the entire ad printed onto his or her white pit pants in full color? It doesn’t get any better than that.

This article appeared in the November/December 2004 issue of SignCraft.




Bob Behounek has spent over 40 years as a sign artist and pinstriper in the Chicago, Illinois, area.