Another week, another memorable paint scheme.
NASCAR driver and RMNB reader, Ryan Ellis, will jump back into his Keen Parts no. 44 car at Darlington Raceway on Saturday (3pm, USA Network). The avid hockey fan and his team, Alpha Prime Racing, are getting major attention on social media for his car’s throwback design.
Ellis, who recently had his first trading card and diecast car made, got special permission from Hendrick Motorsports to use Jeff Gordon’s iconic fire-and-flames, rainbow paint scheme for the race. The car emulates the design Gordon raced with when he tied Dale Earnhardt on the wins list with 76 on April 21, 2007, at Pheonix Raceway. The victory ended a 25-race winless streak at the time for Gordon.
“It means the world,” Gordon said in Victory Lane then per NBC Sports. “Just to get a win at a track that we’d never won at before. I drove my guts out, I’ve never had to drive so hard for a win. … Holding that ‘3’ flag … to honor (Earnhardt) in that way it really means a lot to me. I learned so much from him. To even come close to anything he’d ever done in this sport is amazing to me. We wanted to honor him, we’ve been holding onto that flag for a long time. To get 76 is incredible.”
There’s also another special angle to this. Ellis very much looked up to Gordon as a kid — both were dirt car racers first — and hoped to emulate his success someday.
“Jeff was definitely my favorite driver growing up,” Ellis said. “Like many other kids, I really loved the whole ‘rainbow warriors’ thing and the colorful paint schemes he ran. I dressed up as Jeff at Halloween and always cheered for him at any race I went to.”
In nearly every photo Jane Ellis, Ryan’s mom, took of her son at a track or racing, he was wearing some sort of Gordon merch.
“Ryan wore Jeff Gordon gear all over the place,” Jane said. “Hat, backpack, jacket. I think even had shoes and a lunchbox!”
When Ryan made his Cup Series debut at Phoenix in 2015, Gordon was in his last full-time season. They took a photo together. After two decades of chasing his dream, Ryan had made the same series as one of his heroes growing up.
“It was an incredible moment for me,” Jane Ellis said. “If I recall correctly Smoke (Tony Stewart) was also there. And it was just mind-blowing knowing he would be in the same race as two of these legends. I was so proud of him.”
— Ryan Ellis (@ryanellisracing) June 16, 2016
What makes Ryan’s scheme for Darlington so spectacular is how on-the-nose the design is. Due to the branding flexibility of Ryan’s sponsors (who all consider him a good friend), Alpha Prime Racing designer Ryan Pistana was allowed to recreate their marks so they had the same shapes and colors as the logos that were on Gordon’s car.
The design’s exactingness is especially noticeable when comparing Ryan’s car to William Byron’s throwback scheme earlier in the year. Byron did not appear to have that same flexibility. Meanwhile, Next-Gen cars require numbers to left aligned on the side panels while Xfinity cars are still middle aligned with the window.
“We’re really thankful to have such creative and flexible partners as the Keens – their brand flexibility is what makes so many of their paint schemes fan-favorites,” Ellis said.
Alpha Prime Racing revealed the car on Thursday to much acclaim before getting it on the road to haul to the track.
Not only will Ryan’s scheme match Gordon’s, but his helmet and racing suit have also gone rainbow.
— Ryan Ellis (@ryanellisracing) September 1, 2022
“This is such a cool throwback to one of the greatest drivers in the history of our sport,” Tommy Joe Martins, Xfinity driver and general manager of Alpha Prime Racing, said. “Thanks to Jeff Gordon for giving us a chance and Tom and TJ Keen for all they do for our race team.”
For those who who’s like to watch Ryan race this weekend, he will first hit the track at 10:05 am ET on Saturday, September 3rd for a short practice session. Single-lap qualifying follows at 10:35 am ET leading into Saturday afternoon’s race, with coverage beginning at 3:00 pm ET on the USA Network.
Full disclosure: Ryan Ellis is a longtime reader and friend of the blog. RMNB has sponsored Ryan in races in the past. We bring you notable stories about Ryan’s career because we hope to help him achieve his dream of being a full-time racer in Xfinity or the top series someday.
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