Car Culture & Entertainment

Our Top 10 Favorite Race Liveries

In honor of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” today, we’re taking a look at some of our favorite race car sponsorships—or more specifically, the sponsorship artwork.

If you’ve never heard the term “livery” before, it’s basically a fancy word for a paint scheme commonly associated with a race car and/or its sponsor.

The only catch is that we didn’t include limited specials or one-offs in our list (sorry Dogecoin), opting instead to focus on recurring sponsors and paint schemes.

OK, we gave one honorable mention, and you can see it at the bottom of this list.

Take a look at the lineup below, and let us know your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this article.

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10. Castrol

(Image/Summit Racing)

So we’re totally biased here, as this particular livery was seared into our young minds thanks to all the quarters we fed into Sega Rally Championship. But let’s not forget that John Force also carried the Castrol flag to victory during a big part of his NHRA career too.

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9. Sunoco

(Image: 1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 (Sunoco) by Nathan Bittinger | CC BY 2.0)

You don’t need to be flashy to be iconic. Take the understated blue/yellow Sunoco livery of the late 1960s for instance. Though its commonly associated with cars like the Penske Trans-Am Camaro and Daytona/Sebring Corvette—the latter which received the first-ever COPO L88 427—plenty of other cars got the blue/gold treatment, including Team Penske’s 1972 Indy 500 winner driven by Mark Donohue.

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8. Renown

(Image/Mazda)

There’s old expression which says “You can’t hear a picture.” But this livery proves that wrong.

That’s because, if you’ve ever heard Mazda’s Wankel-powered racers rip around a track, you probably have a glorious four-rotor engine screaming in your brain right now. While this vibrant livery is usually best remembered for the Le Mans-winning 787B, variations of it have been worn by several other Mazda race cars.

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7. Hot Wheels

Yeah, we could’ve shown you the full-size cars, but we felt the 1:64 versions were more appropriate here. (Image/Summit Racing)

Perhaps the best test for an automotive livery is a simple one: Does it look good on a Hot Wheels car?

So it’s no surprise that the Hot Wheels-backed Plymouth funny cars of Tom “Mongoose” McEwen and Don “Snake” Prudhomme look awesome in whatever scale they’re presented. Combine this paint scheme with two of drag racing’s most famous drivers, and you’ll see how this livery helped put Mattel’s fledging toy car line onto kitchen floors across the country.

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6. Repsol

(Image/Honda)

While there are quite a few MotoGP liveries that could’ve made this list, Repsol stands out because, well…just look at that eyeball-scorching explosion of color. But what’s really neat is that Honda made the livery available on special edition MotoGP replica street bikes too. Yup, you could run errands around town looking like Dani Pedrosa or Nicky Hayden—just don’t drag a knee into your dry cleaner’s parking lot.

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5. M&Ms

(Image/NASCAR, Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Want to get children interested in racing? Slap pictures of big, smiling candy on the side. Beyond that though, what we really like about this particular livery is all of the various iterations and evolutions it has gone through since first appearing decades ago. (Our favorite flavor, pun intended, was Elliot Sadler’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” version during the 2006 season.)

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4. John Player Special

(Image/Lotus)

Thanks to an oh-so-tasteful black/gold tandem, there’s an understated elegance to this particular dress code. These Team Lotus cars are so iconic, the whole group is actually referred to as the collective “John Player Specials.” And given that the livery graced some of the most noteworthy cars of Formula 1’s 1960s-70s golden era, many folks regard the John Player Specials as the best livery of all time. (Chevy Vega fans probably think so too.)

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3. STP

Richard Petty gets his Pontiac up on two wheels while negotiating a turn during the running of the 1990 Banquet Frozen Foods 300 NASCAR Cup race at Sears Point Raceway. (Image/NASCAR, Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Sometimes a livery becomes more associated with a driver than a specific car or race. Case in point: the red/white/blue of STP and Richard Petty. In fact, Petty actually got STP to alter its colors for him, swapping the company’s traditional red for his preferred light “Petty” blue. Petty carried those colors faithfully for decades, stretching back to the early 1970s. The Petty halo around STP is so big, it’s easy to forget that even legendary Mario Andretti campaigned under those letters.

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2. Martini

(Image/Porsche 911 Carrera RSR, Bj. 1974 by Lothar Spurzem | CC BY-SA 2.0 DE)

Ok, considering we put Martini at number two, you can probably already guess what’s number one. Honestly it was a toss up, as they’re both pretty much welded into the fabric of motorsports. The Martini livery has graced everything from rally cars to Le Mans racers, Porsches to Mustangs, and coffee mugs to wristwatches. In short, Martini’s signature stripe package looks good on dang-near everything.

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1. Gulf

(Image: Gulf Racer by Phil Parker | CC BY 2.0)

An awesome car, in an awesome color palette, with an awesome resume from a classic motorsports era. What’s not to like here?

Ever since Ford’s 1968 and 1969 Le Mans wins, this paint scheme has become synonymous with American racing history, and has inspired countless revivals—not just from Ford either, famous U.K. marques like McLaren and Aston Martin have gone Gulf over the years.

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Honorable Mention:
1971 Porsche 917/20 “Trüffle Jäger von Zuffenhausen”

(Image/Porsche)

Alright, we totally said we wouldn’t include one-off special editions in the list, but we had to at least make a passing reference to the “Truffle Hunter from Zuffenhausen.”

At the tail end of its World Sportscar Championship career (which included a pair of Le Mans wins), Porsche decided to send the potent 917 platform out with a bang. It developed a new 917, dubbed the 917/20, that featured significant aerodynamic modifications—along with whimsical artwork inspired by a butcher’s chart for pork cuts. Affectionally dubbed the “Pink Pig,” the new 917/20 crashed out to a DNF in the 1971 Le Mans race (though an earlier model Porsche 917 ultimately end up winning). Thankfully, the 917/20 was saved, its livery restored, and the car still makes occasional public appearances.

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So, what’d we miss? Agree with our list? Let us hear about it in the comments!

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4 Comments

  1. justin story says:

    what about dale earnhardt sr goodwrench and wrangler colors

  2. Don’t forget Al Unser’s Johnny Lightning specials in 70-71. Needed to have an Indy car on the list!

  3. Paul May says:

    Hurst Golden shifter!

  4. Marlboro McLaren MP4/4 changed how advertisers painted cars for TV appearance. Also, Michael Schumacher 2000-2004 Marlboro – the car that still holds lap records at some circuits.

    Couldn’t agree more with the rest of the list though!

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