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 his 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 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 with 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 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.