In The Groove With Brett Nicholson, The Paint Scheme Guy


Brett Nicholson poses in front of his artwork, Matt Kenseth's 2011 Crown Royal paint scheme, at a recent photo shoot. (Photo Credit: Mike Levitt, LAT USA)

By: Toby Christie – Senior Writer

Every weekend during the NASCAR season there are 43 cars that zoom by the grandstands, each beautifully painted to represent each team’s own personal identity.

If you’ve ever wondered “Who the heck designed that?” Or wondered what goes into creating a paint scheme in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series then I have a treat for you.

Last month I featured the top five best and worst paint schemes for the upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Following the article’s release one of the designers who painted one of the top-five best reached out to me.

Brett Nicholson of In The Groove Graphic Design was gracious enough to take time out of his busy preseason schedule to give us insight to the world of an artist, whose canvas is 3,400 lbs. of sheet metal.

Toby Christie: What was the first NASCAR paint scheme you ever created?

Brett Nicholson: The very first one was for National Guard, and it was for the 2004 season, and it was for Greg Biffle. At that time they were with Greg. National Guard was his main sponsor at the time, but they didn’t do a lot of one-off type of stuff. I do work for Subway as well. Subway did like three races or something at that time, but there wasn’t a lot of one-off stuff for National Guard.

So we had chatted and they wanted to do something around the labor day weekend as a one-off scheme that was going to run in California, it was a night race. It wasn’t necessarily wrapped up in a Memorial Day, like a Veteran’s type thing. They still felt that since it was a long weekend, people would be at home watching the race, so they wanted to target that race as a one-off type scheme.

So we had thrown out ideas of doing a “camo” version. They had always done red, white and blue flag type stuff, but they had never done things that were more military themed or geared or driven. So we throw around ideas of doing a “camo” car, and they are the ones who threw around the color scheme. They wanted to call everything an “urban camo,” but we started with a blue and black. Kind of like a night version of “urban camo.”

Then as we progressed on they decided since it’s going to be a night race, we needed to do something that stood out on camera a little more, so that’s when we shifted gears and ended up doing straight up “urban camo” as they call it which is the white, gray and black scheme. So long story short the first one was the 2004 one-off paint scheme for National Guard with Greg Biffle and it was the “urban camo” car.

TC: I actually remember that one being on the track.

BN: Yeah I did too, it was my very first one so me and my wife ended up throwing a party at our house. Of course I was excited and we wanted our friends to share in on the moment, so we invited people over, grilled and the whole nine yards. I remember Greg was doing good, best I could remember, but 3/4ths through the race he cut a tire or something and put it in the wall, and basically ripped the body off the car.

It was devastating, but I do remember that day quite well as well, but yeah that was the very first one.

TC: Describe the feeling of what it’s like to see your work of art cruising at 190 miles-per-hour on Saturdays and Sundays.

BN: I mean it’s awesome. I’m an avid NASCAR fan. I don’t get totally into football or basketball, I do watch those sports, but I’m a huge NASCAR fan, so the fact that you can turn on the television any given Sunday throughout the year and see a piece of work that you’ve done, and know that there are several million people watching it as well – whether they know you’ve done it or not is a different story – but to know that there are people out there who are seeing that, [whether] it’s one of their favorite drivers or one of their favorite paint schemes or they go to the track or their local store and they purchase a die-cast that has that paint scheme on it or a t-shirt that has that paint scheme on it, just thing’s you’ve done … at times it can be a little overwhelming. It’s just such a huge feeling to know that your work is impacting that many people. There’s a lot of designers in the world, but not all of them get to work on the caliber of a client who is a Fortune 500 client, or a sport that impacts so many other millions of people. So it’s a really big feeling for me.

TC: How does a person get into the paint scheme business?

BN: Well I don’t know, I’ve broken into this industry, but I don’t know if I have a story that anybody else can follow and make it as well. I had a personal goal, and I’ll kinda brief you a little bit and this was a driver for me kind of.

I was in college going through all of my studies to become a designer and I used to do a lot of automotive themed things in school, because I’m – as most guys or a lot of people will call themselves, a gear-head. I like anything that has to do with cars, whether it’s a race car or a muscle car and I’ve always been into cars. So I used to do a lot of projects in college themed around automotive stuff.

Well I once had a professor say that I needed to give that up, because you’re never going to make it in the automotive industry. That really kind of got to me, because chances are he was probably right, but who was he to say? So I always had that tucked in the back of my head. Once I got through college, I had a couple of pretty decent jobs in the design industry working on some pretty cool stuff for some professional sports teams because they had those clients and I got to do some fun stuff, but it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to be doing.

I had the opportunity to work with a company who had those Johnny Lightning Hot Wheels cars as an account. They were doing some NASCAR stuff. I got the opportunity to kind of work on some of that stuff, and got paid to do it. So I said, “You know what? This is a lot of fun, this is right up my alley.”

So I just kind went from there. Once I was out of school and everything I knew I had to figure out some way to bring this in. Places I’m going to be working for probably aren’t going to pull in these clients that are going to have sponsorships in racing or whatever. So I started looking up things through Google and the Internet and was trying to find paint scheme competitions or design competitions around paint scheme designs.

Well low and behold Matt Kenseth long ago had one. So I entered that, and nothing became of it. You may remember long ago at Daytona, Pontiac did the pace car design. I was one of the five finalists for that. So that’s kind of where my paint scheme thing got kicked into gear, so to speak. I didn’t win that, but I got to go to Daytona, I got to kinda be in front of one of the design guys at Pontiac. He was around my dad’s age. I got to meet and be around some people, and right then and there I noticed people began to take a little bit of interest.

They saw my design, and I guess they could kind of see my talent and creativity or whatever it was, but from that I ended up doing an Indy Car thing. It was more or less an art competition that was in Indianapolis called “Art Cars.” They were not quite full-scale Indy car replicas, but pretty close. You hand painted those, however you wanted to decorate those, but you had to go through a submission and they picked. Well I got picked to do one of those, so basically at the end of the day that was another paint scheme I got some recognition with.

From that it just kind of snowballed to where I could work myself slowly but surely into the industry. I’ve just been fortunate enough from there on out that I was always driven from that very first pace car at Daytona with Pontiac, that I got my foot in the door, and it just kind of went from there. I didn’t necessarily have a path that I knew that this was going to work to get me there, I was just really goal driven, and I guess been a little bit lucky at the same time. Then again my talent has kind of helped me to push through some barriers to get me to where I am today.

A lot of people know me as a “paint scheme” guy, but a lot of my work is print or autographed cards or printed art that you’d see at a convenience store or a liquor store or a grocery store or something like that, but most people know me for more of the paint schemes. I hope that answers you’re question. (Laughter.)

TC: Do you prefer your cars you design to have the new body wraps, or the old fashion real paint look?

BN: Man, I really like the old paint look. You can do so much with vinyl wraps that it’s incredible, but you know it’s just as hard to get the same look and feel from vinyl versus paint. I’ve been lucky enough, one of my favorite clients that I’ve done some work with is Brut. They’re long gone out of the sport, but when they were in NHRA for three years I did all of their paint schemes and all of their design work for the team, including promotional work and advertising and stuff. It was a lot of fun to work on their paint schemes because they trusted me, they didn’t really question me. They would let me crop into their logo, and let me do things that were a little edgy. But where I’m getting at is all of NHRA stuff is painted. It’s painted with a big gun, and then it’s gone back in with like air brushes and regular brushes to achieve the look you’re going for.

I just think that’s really cool that it’s all paint, it’s like the old hot-rods or muscle cars and stuff, and I think that’s really cool.

NASCAR is like a circus – a little over the top – and that’s great because that’s what has gotten them to the top. But it’s just a fast-paced sport that a little bit of the creativity or things that I lay out on the templates to do a paint scheme, some of that gets lost in translation sometimes. Nobody else knows that, and it may be such a small detail nobody is really going to know, and at the end of the day it isn’t a big deal, but you know I think that it’s a little rushed sometimes. I appreciate, me being an artist, the hand-craft of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen a guy, or a couple of guys do a vinyl wrap on a NASCAR before and that is an unbelievable craft in itself.

I know sometimes Hendrick’s teams, like for Daytona or something, they’ll paint all of their cars minus the contingency decals and stuff because they are trying to cut down on the vinyl weight, and they feel the edges of the stickers pick up wind. So I think that’s pretty cool that they still do take the time to go in and paint those cars from top to bottom. At the end of the day I like paint, but realize we need the vinyl too.

TC: How many man-hours go into each paint scheme, or hero-card you design?

BN: Well it kind of varies. It’s one of those things the more time you can get on a project of course the more ideas you can come up with, or the more creative you can be or the more options you can show somebody. But this is the industry we’re in and a lot of time you don’t have that much time. Last year I did the Verizon Nationwide car towards the end of last season. That was kind of a hurry up project. Verizon had re-branded all of their television commercials and print ads so all that stuff had change. The rings came to play, it was a little more grungy looking, and they wanted their Nationwide car to match that. I did that one in about 24 hours, and had approval and they loved it and we ran with it. That’s probably the best it’s ever gonna get as far as a good project that works that was quick.

Most of the time I like to have at least a couple days on just coming up with one idea of a scheme. A lot of times I like to pitch three options. Three is a pretty solid number to give somebody as far as, you don’t want to overwhelm them, but you don’t want to go in with one, and they hate it and you have to go back and start over again. I like to pitch two or three. If I can have four or five days to pitch those two or three, I think that’s a pretty good average.

Can it be done quicker? Obviously yes. Have I had more time sometimes? Yeah I’ve probably had a couple of weeks sometimes. So I would say probably 40 hours is a pretty good average.

On an autograph card, I don’t really give a client more than one or two options to go with. You kind of establish a look going into the season that a client has signed off on, so you don’t really need to overwhelm them or “wow” them with a bunch of stuff that doesn’t make much sense. There again if you can get two days to make an autographed card, or four days to get them a couple of options that’s a pretty good average.

TC: So our fans can keep an eye out for them, what paint schemes on track in 2011 will be designed by you?

BN: Matt Kenseth’s 2011 Crown Royal purple scheme I have done. The Crown Royal Black scheme matches the purple scheme just with different colors and different logos. There’s those two. It appears that Crown Royal will do another couple of cars, but this is where we get into the topic of how far can I go without releasing some stuff that I can’t really announce. But it appears that they will probably do something again around their entitlement race, which is kind of a military themed, you know they basically pick a winner of all the submissions of veterans and soldiers. When it gets down to five finalists, they pick one, and then that race is named after them.

It’s obviously someone who has obviously been in war, or been a veteran, or done something for the country, and they feel they’re worthy of being picked and having the race named after them. Since they are a veteran usually it comes across as a military type of thing, so it appears Crown will be doing something around that as well. I’m really only speculating at this time, but Jeremiah Weed, which is not a Crown product, but it’s Diagio that owns the Crown family and many other spirits and liquors, one of their’s is Jeremiah Weed and in the last two seasons they have run a scheme. I’m just speculating, but I’m assuming they may run another scheme for one or two races like they did last year.

Right now there’s probably three or four with Crown and Matt Kenseth. The Subway car I did a couple of years ago for Carl Edwards will be back again this year for about three races for 2011. I know Verizon for Indy Car, they’re talking about doing some one-off paint schemes that kind of more ties into their branding and promotions. Right now it’s just a matching Penske paint scheme that stretches across his teams, but they are wanting to look more like Verizon and less like Penske. I don’t know but there is a possibility of a few paint schemes coming out of that.

And the Crown Royal scheme for Grand-Am, which has been approved, which will be running in the next few weeks at the Rolex 24. So that’s the XR products, and it’ll be on the Grand-Am DP car, and I believe that scheme will run all season long with Michael Shank Racing. I think as of right now, that covers all of it. You never know there could be something that pops up throughout the season that I end up working on.

I’ve worked on UPS quite a bit, the last couple of years when they switched to David Ragan and Roush-Fenway, but they went a new direction going into this season since they have some new branding and stuff. So I didn’t work on that stuff.

TC: I know some of your stuff isn’t quite finalized, so where can our readers find all of your work later on this season, if they are wondering if that’s a Brett Nicholson paint scheme?

BN: You could always go to my website of course. It’s at www.inthegroovegraphicdesign.com, that’s kind of where I tend to keep all of my stuff up to date. Like I said earlier, there are some things that are pretty sensitive and some things may get released out on the Internet before. I keep those things pretty close to my heart, because I don’t want to get in trouble with any of my clients or anything, so I am usually one of the later ones to post things onto my site, because I want to make sure I’m doing people that I work with right.

It’s during this time of period, where I haven’t updated my website in three or four months because there isn’t really much going on right now. I’ll probably get back into updating that in the next month. I don’t want to say it’ll be heavy, but it’ll be pretty periodically.

That’s probably the best place for me, I have news on there. You can go back and read previous things that I’ve posted. It’s not in-depth articles, but it just gives you a little “This paint scheme ran with this driver with this client at this race type of thing.” Then you can click on that and go in and look at the gallery to see the template I worked on, and then you can click on that to see an actual image of the car. I try to post not just paint schemes, but I’ve done race entitlement logos, and team logos stuff and also the autograph cards and stuff like that. I like to post stuff like that there, too.

I do have a facebook, that’s about inthegroove as well, but I think you can get a better viewpoint by going to the website.

TC: What’s your favorite car you have designed to this point in your career?

BN: That’s kind of hard. I’ve got really two or three that I really like. The National Guard “urban camo” car we already talked about. That’s probably one of my favorites because it was the first. I don’t know if that necessarily makes it my favorite or the best, but it’s one of those milestones in my career that kind of kicked things off, so it’s kind of hard not to mention that one.

I’ve really liked the UPS car that ran the last couple of seasons because it was different. There again they let me do my thing, and they wanted a little younger audience, and to be a little edgier and I think that came across and I think it was perceived well. I also liked the Freight schemes I did for them because they were along the same lines.

But if I had to pick just one favorite, I would probably lean towards either one of the Brut paint schemes I did. The traditional green product was the first one I did and i really liked it, but then when the new product which was the blue product I thought that scheme was really good as well. So those are probably two of my favorites of all time, the two Brut cars I did. I just think they came across really good, and were really strong. I heard from fans and other people that they just really liked that paint scheme and they could relate to it. It really got them going. I think that was my all-time favorite. If I had to I would pick the green Brut paint scheme as probably my favorite of all-time.

TC: Does creating paint schemes for some of these companies come with any unique perks?

BN: Every once in a while I’ll get a bottle of Crown or something here or there. When I did the Jeremiah Weed paint scheme, they liked it so well and I was in contact with them back and forth to figure out what we were trying to achieve. At the end of the day, when that paint scheme was done they sent me a bottle of Jeremiah Weed, which I had never heard of that stuff going into it.

Every once in a while something like that will show up on my desk, or I’ll get die-casts that will show up that are signed by the drivers. That’s probably my favorite perk because I have in my office a display case. Now I collect some motorsports memorabilia and stuff but I have one display case that’s kind of dedicated to the paint schemes that I’ve worked on. That’s probably one of my favorites because it’s a conversation piece first and foremost, but it also symbolizes a piece of my work so it’s cool to be able to walk up to those and look at them.

The only other thing I can think of off the top of my head, I’m sure there’s more, but right now I’m looking at a wallie. It’s a wallie from Ron Capps that he signed sitting on my desk, so that’s kind of cool to have something like that. It says “Thanks,” on it and signed it. I’ve got another big 20 by 30 picture that Ron personalized saying, “Brett for all your help, Ron Capps.” Just pieces like that, you know you’re not even expecting them and they land on your desk, you open them and you’re like, “Well cool.” I guess that is not a lot of perks, for me some of the perks are just being in the industry because it’s so hard to get into it.

For me knowing that my work is going around the track is enough for me, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but it’s also cool to have a die-cast show up that is signed too.

TC: Do you keep track of victories or stats that are racked up in your paint schemes? If so how many wins do you have in NASCAR?

BN: I don’t really know those off the top of my head, it’s not one of those things that I just have to quote or anything. When I do know that one of my paint schemes wins, I’ll go out and post it to the website. Like Ron Capps when he won one of the NHRA events, I would post it for each the green and blue paint scheme.

I know Tony Stewart, before they moved over to Carl Edwards, he won in my Subway paint scheme.

TC: That was the infamous Regan Smith finish, right?

BN: It was, and I was like, “No don’t take this from Tony. I need this win.” Because that was a one-off race because Subway didn’t run many races then, and only ran one or two races with Tony that year. It doesn’t get much bigger than Tony Stewart winning in your paint scheme, so yeah that was the infamous Tony Stewart/Regan Smith battle to the finish line.

I don’t know them off the top of my head, but yeah I have had several paint schemes go to victory lane or victory circle. It’s cool to have those photos because when the driver is celebrating on the top of the car, it’s your paint scheme he is standing on, it’s your fire-suit he and the crew are wearing. That’s a pretty cool image at the end of the day.

I think for the most part my goals have been met. I originally just wanted one of my paint schemes to win a race and Greg Biffle did that for me for the first time when he won a Nationwide race in a Henkel paint scheme that I did years ago around 2006. That was cool to finally get that. Most of my goals, if you can have any for a driver in your paint scheme, I have accomplished.

Now would it be cool to have a driver win a championship in your paint scheme? Of course. Would it be cool to have a driver win the Daytona 500 or Brickyard 400? That would be cool. So there’s a couple things that would still be cool to have or achieve, but those goals are out of my hands. I don’t put those at the top of the list because I can’t control those goals.

TC: Thank you for your time Brett.

BN: Well thank you Toby, I’m glad I posted that comment.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Toby Christie

Toby Christie is the Senior Writer for Rubbings Racing. He has been watching NASCAR since 1993, and has covered the sport as a media member since 2007. Toby is a proud member of the NMPA. Additionally, Toby is a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan, subpar guitarist and he is pretty good around a mini-golf course.


  1. Rex Padgett

    January 13, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    I have know Brett for quite some time and can attest the time, devotion and compassion he has for this is tremendous. When you think quality, honest, hardworking and attention to detail, look to Brett for your needs! He is an amazing creative thinker and will find a way to illustrate what you have conceptualized! Great Work!

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention In The Groove With Brett Nicholson, The Paint Scheme Guy | RubbingsRacing.com -- Topsy.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *