Racing costs a ton of money, especially at its highest level. Consider, for example, the nine-figure budget required to field a Formula 1 car. Sponsors are one of the few things that help defray the cost of racing. Team owners would be foolish to be selective about which ones want to festoon your car in stickers. Thus, teams (probably more often than they like) will slap a logo on a car if it means money in their pocket.
Since beggars can’t be choosers, race teams often find themselves hitched to some truly bizarre sponsors. We compiled a countdown of our ten favorites. Here’s to the movies, drugs, recording artists, and corporate sugar daddies who propped up teams in their time of need. They may have gotten the exposure, and the race teams may have enjoyed the funding, but we’re the true beneficiaries, here.
Is there a weird sponsorship that we missed? Ever had a questionable sticker on your quarter panel? Let us know in the comments below.
Slim Borgudd leads a very interesting life. He was the session drummer for Swedish supergroup ABBA and a mid-pack Formula 1 driver for two seasons in the early-1980s.
After competing in lower formula ranks for a number of years, Borgudd scored a ride with the ATS Formula 1 team in 1981. Borgudd didn’t have cash sponsors, so he asked his band for permission to use its logo on his car to garner publicity. The gambit worked and Borgudd secured a sponsorship with Steinbock, a forklift manufacturer, later in the season. Money! Money! Money!
9. Taylor Swift
T-Swift’s discography doesn’t exactly elicit visions of race cars and high speed. It turns out the country-singer-turned-pop-star has adorned three cars racing at the top of American motorsport.
The first instance of a Swift sponsorship was back in 2012. In the NASCAR race at Kansas Speedway, the Juan Pablo Montoya’s Chevy was a rolling billboard for Swift’s Red album. Then, in 2015, Tony Kanaan’s IndyCar promoted Swift’s upcoming 1989 tour at the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. Two years later, Courtney Force had album art from Reputation plastered all over her NHRA Funny Car.
Promoting musicians on race cars is nothing new, especially with recording labels. Interscope sponsored an entry in the CART series in 1979, Big Machine sponsorship is a staple in stock car racing, and Richard Petty scored his 200th win in NASCAR driving for Curb Racing.
NASCAR’s popularity skyrocketed in the 1990s and early 2000s. Growth was exponential and plenty of strange suitors came calling with exposure on their mind. Kid’s television channel Cartoon Network sponsored a couple cars in the late-90s and each paint scheme came replete with the Network’s cast of characters and wacky number fonts.
Then, in 2001, Looney Tunes forked over some dough to splash its name across the side of five NASCAR Chevrolet Monte Carlos. Naturally, Jeff Gordon, NASCAR’s biggest star at the time, was paired with Bugs Bunny.
7. Boudreaux’s Butt Paste
Speaking of wise cracks, in 2010, this diaper rash cream sponsorship appeared on a backmarker in the NASCAR field.
During the 1976 season , prophylactic maker Durex sponsored Surtees, a mid-pack Formula 1 team. Formula 1 racing was wildly dangerous in the 1970s so using them to promote safe sex is a bit ironic.
That season, the BBC refused to cover any race with the Durex car in the field. In his autobiography, race commentator Murray Walker recalled: “As far as the BBC was concerned a visible Durex logo was totally unacceptable for family viewing.”
Surtees refused to remove the logo when requested by the BBC. The broadcaster eventually caved before the final round at Suzuka so the British people could watch fellow countryman James Hunt win the championship.
NASCAR great Mark Martin jumped from long-time sponsor Valvoline to Viagra for the 2001 season. The sponsorship deal was rumored to be $15 million per year—one of the largest at the time. Martin’s fans were understandably not thrilled with the prospect of wearing merch with the drug’s logo.
Eventhough it was the butt of many jokes, the Viagra car probably saved lives. Martin insisted that any Viagra ad spots he was featured in advocate for men’s health issues like early prostate cancer screening. In addition to the ads, parent company Pfizer set up a medical tent at every cup race that screened fans for common medical conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, and hypertension.
In 1977, the BBC seemingly forgot about their stance on the Durex F1 car from the year prior. That year, the Hesketh 308E had a way more salacious livery that the BBC had no problems broadcasting for the entire season. Sponsored by adult magazine Penthouse and rolling paper maker Rizla, the car prominently featured a scantily clad woman holding a Rizla package. Hesketh had a subpar year, with a best finish of seventh. In 1978, the team switched to a less controversial Olympus camera sponsorship before folding mid-season.
3. Good Smile (Anime)
German cars sporting elaborate Japanese cartoon liveries have been serious contenders in the touring car races. Beginning in 2008, anime figurine maker Good Smile has fielded a team in the GT300 class of Japan’s Super GT series. The team won the series title in 2012 with their BMW Z4.
Dianetics is a self-help book penned by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and serves as one of the foundational documents for the religion. Before Scientology was thrust into the public spotlight, they prominently displayed the Dianetics logo on a number of race cars throughout the 1980s.
The group started out by sponsoring endurance racers. In 1987 a Spice SE86C with a giant Dianetique (French for Dianetics) logo on the nose won its class at Le Mans. The company tried to sponsor Mario Andretti’s ride for the 1988 GTE World Challenge of Tampa. Andretti, a devout Catholic, discovered what Scientology was before the start of the race and demanded that the logos be removed.
For the 1988 Indy 500, Dianetics decals adorned the Vince Granatelli Racing Lola/Cosworth driven by Roberto Guerrero. It crashed out in turn two, having failed to complete a single lap. The team ran with the Dianetics livery for a few races but by mid-June it had been removed from the car.
The story goes that members of the religion tried to “audit”—a rigorous interrogation process that claims to cure the receiver of any mental hang-ups—Guerrero after he spun in qualifying for the Milwaukee race. This made team owner Granatelli uncomfortable, so he ditched the $1.5 million-per-race deal.
1. Wii Fit
If you were a gamer in the Aughts, you probably stood in line for hours to score a Nintendo Wii. At the time, Nintendo was trying to sell their console to people who normally wouldn’t play video games. Wii Fit was a part Nintendo’s strategy to attract the normies. The game was a personal fitness tracker that had users do yoga and body-weight exercises in the included balance board accessory.
Nintendo thought it would be a good idea to brand Alex Loyd’s entry into the 2008 Indianapolis 500 with the Wii Fit logo. Loyd didn’t do so hot that year, putting the car into the wall in the closing stages of the race—not a strong endorsement for the game.
No mention of the 1981 Toyota LeMons entry sponsored by Vagisil? The team slogan plastered on the car along with the Vagisil graphics was “Itchin’ To Win”.
Then there was the SCCA GT-Lite Nissan 200SX sponsored by Booble.com (“A site for discerning porn surfers”) https://labusinessjournal.com/news/search-engine-booble-targets-discerning-porn/
Must’ve made for some interesting after-parties in the hospitality tent. (“18 and over, I.D. required”)
Now that is a LeMons theme!
No inclusion of Rich Energy sponsoring the Haas F1 team? Bah.
One of my favorites is the Williams Renault F1 car at the 1993 Iceberg Grand Prix in Phoenix. The Elf/Canon car was partially sponsored by SEGA and the side of the foot-box showed a cartoon graphic of a cutaway view into the foot-box showing Alain Prost’s cartoon legs and feet with a big SEGA logo on his pant leg. We were sitting in the stands and, when the car went by for the first time, I laughed out loud.
You guys missed the Devine sponsor Jesus Saves Racing in Formula One. Remember seeing it as a kid in the mid seventies wondering why Jesus was behind a back burner car!
And let’s not forget the Whittington Brothers, suntan lotion and perfume sponsors.
In pre-race to 1975 US GP at Watkins Glen, a Formula Vee car sponsored by EZ Wider was a crowd favorite.
I think the EZ-Wider Super Vee in the supporting race before the USGP at the Glen was driven by Howdey Holmes. Also, dont forget Keke Rosberg driving a pink Chevron in Formula Atlantic sponsored by Excita condoms
I remember seeing a McLaren sports car sponsored by Led Zepplin at Silverstone in 1973.
I always got a kick out of the literally zero sponsorship “John Paul Racing” GTP cars. The guy just moved pot by the ton back in the day and paid cash for almost everything. Need an engine, go to another team with a sack of hundreds. The fact that GTP turned a blind eye to it for multiple seasons was hilarious.
Stirling Marlin drove a NASCAR sponsered by Slenderalls, its ladys undergarments.
A SCCA team I occasionally crewed on participated and almost won BP at the SCCA runoffs in Road Atlanta in 1976 with prophylactic sponsor Texture Plus.
The Toyota 84c car was sponsored by Wacoal, a Japanese women’s intimates company. Ok, that’s not particularly controversial now, but for the 1980s, it would have been considered a bit…racy.
I’ll show myself out.