News & Media

Retro Racing: For Bristol's head painter, race weekend is a a monumental task

August 23, 2012, Mark Aumann,

For Bristol's head painter, every race weekend is a monumental task for his crew

If you think painting is a chore normally, just imagine what Terry King and his crew will face this weekend. They'll paint over the same areas at Bristol Motor Speedway as much as three times between now and Saturday, working for hours in the middle of the night to get done in time.

King is the head painter at Bristol, and his primary job this weekend is to make sure the walls -- particularly the sponsor logos -- around the track look pristine when the cars hit the track for the Nationwide race Friday night.

"[How much we paint] depends on how much they hit the wall, which makes my job a little bit tougher. But I figure that's what the fans want. And, the more times they hit it, the better the fans like it. "


Unfortunately, it usually doesn't take long for the wrecking to start, which means King and a crew of four will have quite a task ahead of them to make it all look pretty again for Saturday night's Cup event.

"It depends on how much they hit the wall, which makes my job a little bit tougher," King said. "But I figure that's what the fans want. And, the more times they hit it, the better the fans like it.

"I know one time in particular where we went in after the race was over and we painted until 6 the next morning, and had to be back here at 7. It's time-consuming, but I love it."

It's a job which requires hundreds of gallons of paint and a lot of patience. And it's one reason why King will be honored by IRWIN Tools as part of its "tradesmen of the track" initiative.

King got the job seven years ago on the recommendation of a friend. Before that, he worked in the construction industry. When he took over as head painter from local legend George Wilson, King found himself handling everything from parking lot striping to keeping the facility in tip-top shape on race weekends.

And with a half-mile oval to repaint between races -- including the walls, the apron, the start/finish line and logos -- that's a whole lot of flat latex paint.

"It's hundreds of gallons," King said. "For this race, it seems like we use more because we partially painted the walls black. The interior walls next to the pit lane are all black, but NASCAR said we had to put a white stripe down at the base.

"The outside wall, we painted toward the grandstands black and we got about a quarter of the way on the inside painted, and they put a halt on it because NASCAR had not made a decision yet. We were on hold for three weeks, but had to go back to white."

Why black? King says it hides the scuff marks better, plus it's easier to touch up than the white.

"With the white, if you had tire marks on it, it usually takes two coats to cover them," King said. "The thing with the black: if a tire hits it, no problem. But if they hit it too hard and they get into the white, still it'll be easier to cover up because you only have to put one coat of black over the white then."

King said the initial coat is applied with a sprayer, but the detail work requires rollers and brushes. And, amazingly, none of the logos are stenciled on. King fixes them all freehand.

"We've done it so many times, we know exactly what goes in there and where, so there's a lot that goes into it," King said. "People don't realize what goes into it. They know you have to go back there and paint it, but they don't know what it takes to do that."

The hardest thing to paint, according to King, might be the most important spot on the track: the start/finish line.

"It's a two- to three-day job, just to do the logos and the start/finish line because we want to make every square exact," King said. "Forty rows up, you don't see [the detail]. But, if you're on the track for the pre-race, you're walking on top of it and you can see everything that's wrong with it."

Just like the racing, weather can play a major factor in how well King can do his job. If it's too wet, the paint won't dry in time.

"We've been lucky the last four days where we've had decent weather and could do some painting and get done what we need to do," King said. "With the SAFER wall, it takes four to five days before it dries completely. Even if you go by there with a blower and you think it's dry, the second you start putting paint on it, the water oozes out.

"Even with heavy dew, the water gets in those cracks and it comes out on the paint. Then you've got streaks and lines all the way down your wall and you have to paint it over. When the sun's out, it doesn't take long at all. It'll dry within 30 minutes. The striping paint is the fastest drying paint we have. If it's 90 degrees outside, it'll be dry in 20 seconds. But if it's cloudy or the least bit cool, it'll take longer."

It's a pretty cool job, King said, although it's hard to get many people to volunteer once they realize the enormity of the task. Plus, you have to be able to keep your emotions in check when the winning driver decides to deface all your hard work.

"You can have a logo that has nothing on it all race, and then they do the victory burnout and they can destroy it in a matter of seconds," King said.