Why Mess With A Classic?

As a longtime fan of Roger Penske, I was a little depressed to read on the IndyStar website on Friday that Team Penske is considering changing the long-time paint scheme of the Marlboro cars. Apparently, Phillip Morris is reducing their financial involvement with the team beginning in 2010 resulting in a possible change.

This is one of the most recognizable paint schemes in all of motorsports. It is so striking, yet so simple in its design. The Marlboro paint scheme has had a presence in American open-wheel racing since 1986, when Emerson Fittipaldi leveraged hisemmo longtime relationship with Marlboro and brought the sponsorship to Pat Patrick’s team in CART. 1989 was the first time the famous livery graced Victory Lane at the Indianapolis 500 when Fittipaldi drove his Pat Patrick Penske chassis to his first of two Indy 500 wins. That same year, Al Unser drove an almost identical Marlboro liveried car for Roger Penske. The following year, Fittipaldi moved to Penske along with the Marlboro sponsorship. 1990 saw Danny Sullivan and Fittipaldi driving the Marlboro cars for Penske while Rick Mears drove the yellow Pennzoil car one last time.

From that point forward, every car that Roger Penske fielded in 1991Penske CART or the IRL has carried the Marlboro livery with two exceptions – Paul Tracy drove a Mobil 1 entry in 1991 and 1992 at selected races. In 1991, Tracy’s car was in the design of the Marlboro car except that the day-glo red was replaced with92Mobil1 blue. In 1992, Tracy’s Mobil 1 cars resembled the Norton paint scheme that adorned the Penske cars in the early eighties. The other exception was this past season when Will Power drove cars with Verizon livery and Penske Truck Rental, which resembled Al Unser’s 1987 winning paint scheme.

There has been almost no change in this scheme since it was first introduced in 1986. It is basically white with two day-glo red chevrons – one ahead of the driver, the other behind the cockpit. Simple black lettering denotes the names of sponsors.

There have been subtle tweaks as the scheme has evolved  over time. When Marlboro Team Penske decided to run the Indianapolis 500 while still running in CART in 2001, they had Marlboro to remove the word “Marlboro” from the car at the last minute because the tobacco laws only permitted tobacco companies to advertise in only one series so they ran (and won) with blank sidepods. A couple of races after moving over to the IRL in 2002, the Marlboro name had to be removed and they could only have the name of the team on the sidepods; Marlboro Team Penske. By the beginning of the 2007 season, the word Marlboro had to be removed and the cars could only say “Team Penske” but the distinctive Chevrons were allowed to remain.

Now after twenty-four seasons, it looks as if Team Penske is seriously considering re-designing the paint scheme on the cars of Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe. My question is…why?

Before some anti-tobacco advocates get after me, please understand that I am not a smoker nor do I condone tobacco advertising. That being said, the Marlboro livery is one of the most traditional and classic trademarks around. It is as recognizable as the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle, the Chevrolet bow-tie or the NBC peacock. It is one of the cleanest and most tasteful uses of day-glo colors in motorsports. And now they want to change it.

One thing I always look forward to at the beginning of each season is to see who is driving a new paint scheme. I’m generally in favor of a team’s colors getting a face-lift. The Target cars come to mind. They are a little bland and could use some sprucing up. I like the bright yellow Vision car, but it needs a re-do. Danica Patrick’s car looked better trimmed in orange. But some things should never change. The New York Yankees should never change their uniforms nor should the Dallas Cowboys. The Alabama Crimson Tide uniforms have gone pretty well untouched for decades. Tennessee’s black jerseys looked horrendous; as did Ohio State’s atrocities that they unveiled this past Saturday. The Marlboro livery falls in the same category with the Tide, Yankees and Cowboys. It is a classic which should be preserved.

The only reason I can think of why Team Penske should do away with the classic paint scheme, would be due to tobacco legislation; which ordered them to remove the chevrons. Unless that is the case, it pains me to think that we may have seen the last of this classic at the track simply because some so-called marketing whiz may have thought it had gone stale. Some things should never change.

George Phillips

24 Responses to “Why Mess With A Classic?”

  1. I hear what you’re saying, George, but to me, this isn’t that big of a deal. The bigger-more positive-issue is that Will Power will run a third full-time Penske car next season with Verizon Wireless colors. Could Verizon be the reason for the change? I’m not sure. I agree with you on the stick-and-ball teams not changing their uniforms, but for me, it’s still the same team, still the same cars and still the same drivers. Therefore, to me, a livery change isn’t particularly a major issue.

    • Edward you’re wrong! It’s no big deal if Newman/Haas or AGR change their colors but the Marlboro colors are the symbol of indy car racing. If Verizon has something to do with this then that’s a problem. One sponsor shouldn’t dictate another sponsors signage no matter how hidden it is.

      • If anything, I’d argue that Graham’s DP01 at the Champ Car Finale at Long Beach didn’t get enough props for being a pretty hot throwback to the ol’ K-Mart/Havoline cars. It was a very, very hot car.

      • Sorry will…. white tubs with black side pods was NEVER a “paint scheme” , more like a no-brainer for the boys in the paint shop ❗ IMO the Newman-Haas drivers were iconic not the livery 💡

  2. It always has bothered me that teams paint their cars the same. It’s hard to tell them apart. They should keep one car with that paint if they’re allowed, but why (subliminally anyway) advertise Marlboro if they’re not paying you?

    • oilpressure Says:

      My understanding is that they ARE still paying but they are scaling back some. If anyone knows for sure, please let me know. – GP.

      • They’ve scaled back their $$$ level so they must lose something… that has been The Captain’s business model. Nothing personal.

  3. Not just Indycar George; in F1 McLaren ran the Marlboro paint scheme from 1973 – 1996, at which point they changed title sponsor.

    (e.g. – Fittipaldi won his first title with them in ’74)

    • Exactly. Lets also remember that Emerson’s 1st indy win came for Pat Patrick in Marlboro colors… not TEAM PENSKE.

      George: You mentioned the NY Yankee pinstripe uniforms. If those iconic uniforms were tied to a sponsor then they would have changed a dozen times over the years ❗

      The Marlboro scheme was so successful & so distinctive that even BEFORE the anti tobacco laws it was possible to DROP the ciggie name & still know what it was selling ❗ ❗ This worked in F1 for years as England, France, & Germany were the 1st countries to ban tobacco advertising on race cars (late 80’s ?).

      Its not fair for a new generation of Penske sponsors to be saddled with “hand-me-down” team identities (mo matter who sweet they are…)

      • 😳 UGH:!: that would be NO matter & HOW sweet

        I have to learn to slow down when I know there is no edit button 😦

  4. CurlingRacer Says:

    Couldn’t agree more. From Indy Cars to F1 McLarens, the DayGlo Red and White livery should live on. Most youngsters following racing today don’t know that it was linked to Marlboro. Us old fogies do, so I guess that could be an issue with the anti-tobacco folks. The Captain will do what’s best for his team. I have no problems with that. Penske is linking with Verizon quite a bit more and they do have a red check mark, so maybe that can be adapted to keep a little of both in the new liveries.

    Another team that keeps it’s uniforms the same are my beloved Penn State Nittany Lions. Very simple, yet very proud. We flipped out when they actually put the Nike Swoosh on the uniform.

  5. Although the Marlboro red-n-white paint scheme has been a part of open-wheel and motorcycle racing for decades, I can’t say that those colours especially scream out “Penske” to me. Yes, they’ve had that scheme for quite a while, but so have many other teams. Its not been unique to Penske. When I think of Penske cars, the yellow Pennzoil car of Rick Mears always comes to my mind, which is why I thought it fantastic to see Will Power in the Penske Truck Rental scheme at Edmonton. Sure it wasn’t Pennzoil, but it was that magnificent yellow. There was also the car Mears won his first championship in, the Norton/Gould red, white, and blue schemed car. I’m looking forward to the change.

    • Doug: I’m sure PENNZOIL was very happy with Penske’s simple yellow paint scheme…. However IMO the Penske Truck Rental scheme dropped a red accent stripe for blue & never screamed “original” to me 💡

      Al Unser Sr won his 4th Indy 500 with a similar yellow scheme…. IRONICALLY with HERTZ as a sponsor ❗ So Penske Truck Rental got a hand-me-down from a former rival in the rental biz ❗ ❗

      The NORTON & GOULD Penske schemes were stunning & still hold up today. The great thing about them that they were truly ORIGINAL. Mr. Penske prided himself on these details… I would prefer he reach for new classics instead of “recycling” old concepts 💡

      I’m not being pi$$Y, but honest. In the 80’s Penske was not satisfied with a standard issue transporter for his Indycars. He commissioned the late Larry Shinoda, designer of the ’63 Vette & ’70 BOSS Mustang to design a very trick aero package on his transporters. The chromed livery & skirted cab & trailer are still basically used today. Penske also had a GM designer (Randy Whittean (SP?) ) do many of his tasty car liveries (including the Gould/ Norton/ AB Dick Penskes …)

      IMO Penske should use those kind of resources to create brand new identity

      • oilpressure Says:

        Umm…Penske bought Hertz Truck Rental in 1985, two years before Al Unser drove that car to victory. He changed the name to Penske Truck Rental in the early 1990’s.

      • True. HERTZ was purchased by Penske, but he did wait to phase in his PENSKE name to the biz.

        Can we agree that the general public could confuse HERTZ as a rival to PENSKE as HERTZ is still in the rental game (admittedly on the car side)? The Penske Truck Rentals have a bold blue & black stripe as its branding… this would look tasteful on an Indycar & help it standout from the retro HERTZ scheme. JMO 🙂

        We are discussing the details of liveries & my points above showcase what Mr. Penske has done in the past to be unique ❗ I hope he draws on this as opposed to just revisiting “retro” 💡

  6. I saw this mentioned elsewhere and agree: paint schemes help fans quickly identify cars. I always liked the idea of teams creating and keeping unique schemes for that very reason.

  7. tim nothhelfer Says:

    If it’s time to change, well that’s good news to me!
    Maybe Roger will again have a sponsor to promote his drivers and the teams….like in ads.
    I’m kinda tired of all the free red hats in the stands reminding us to take up pack of reds.

    • Penske drivers in Verizon Wireless ads would work IMO ❗ If possible switch over to this cell phone provider & write a letter to them telling them WHY 💡

      Enough of us do this & watch Verizon Wireless become the new “Marlboro” ❗

  8. Sell a sponsorship to Pennzoil. I like the yellow. Also, sell one to Miller Beer.

    • JohnMc: Exxon-Mobil has more $$$ then PENNZOIL & Team Penske has had about 19 GREAT years with Mobil 1 ❗ 💡 Mobil product is on the Penske NASCAR effort & is in every Penske Truck Rental vehicle.. Think Pennzoil can match that ❓

      Miller was a Philip Morris owned brand… not anymore. Only are in NASCAR due to the high ratings & the belief that it has tapped the beer demographic 💡

  9. […] George wrote about 20,000 words expressing the same feelings a while back.  Also, my calculations are that the Marlboro scheme had a 50% success rate at […]

  10. redd, ony American teams avoid uniform liveries. It gives teams a stronger identity. Ferraris have always been red, Williams white and blue, Minardi yellow, Renault yellow and black, Mercedes silver, Peugeot blue and white, Citroën red and white…

    I like that the three Penske cars have the sideplates in different colours.

    • The livery of the 1992 Mobil 1 car looks simple, but strangely is a perfect example of Roger Penske’s attention to detail. They re-used the timeless Gould Charge striping and colors, but take note of the sponsor placement: all but identical to the Marlboro cars, with the Mobil and Marlboro logos transposed. All the other sponsor logos are in nearly the same place across all three cars. There’s a reason that you can look at pictures of all three 1992 cars side by side and although two are white/orange and one is blue/white/red, they visually appear in harmony.

      That car is also an example of how a team can adapt a livery to different sponsors. Yes, it helps that Gould and Mobil share corporate colors, but the striping doesn’t belong to either. It’s not a stretch to imagine that livery converted to black/white/red with Verizon logos, is it?

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