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Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

August 8, 1997

You can buy all kinds of flashy stuff for your favorite car: fancy wheels; special seats; underhood dress-up parts; gold plated emblems. What you may not know is that you can buy equally flashy items of personal attire that will proclaim to the world what brand of car you drive or covet, which racer is your personal hero or the automotive lifestyle you lead. These are a few of the types of clothing and accessories that you can wear to help you make that statement:

HATS - One-size-fits-all baseball caps are as common as ants at a picnic and as varied as political parties in France. Almost everyone I know has at least a couple and they're emblazoned with legends from local bars, sports teams and, of course, auto-oriented logos and slogans. NASCAR is arguably the most aggressive marketer of licensed merchandise of all the race bodies and its sales organization offers hats with not only the names and likenesses of NASCAR stars, but their team sponsors as well. Magazines like CAR AND DRIVER sell their own hats and Car Buffs captions its ad in ON TRACK as "Our Best Selling Cap Ever." It's identical to the one worn by two-time world driving champion Michael Schumacher and has been reduced by 50 percent to $20. I assume it's because Schumacher hasn't been doing very well lately.

TEE SHIRTS, SWEAT SHIRTS - All big time show and race promoters sell promotional tee and sweat shirts at their events and almost every professional and semi-pro racer does the same. These racers offer tee or sweat shirts with their own likeness or that of their current race car emblazoned thereon. Every little bit helps so if you're inclined to spend a couple of hours at your local quarter-mile dirt track and admire the skills and bravery of a local driver, you can buy one of his or her shirts and help support the effort. There are hundreds of silk-screen shops around the country that cater to this market and all the custom car and hot rod shows offer a full line of these items. I myself have one that date back to the Baja 1000 Rally of '67.

LEATHER JACKET - "If you're a (Dodge) Viper enthusiast, these jackets are a must!" is a proclamation made on the last page of the latest issue of Mopar Performance News. The leather jackets shown come in blue/black and red/black combinations and announce that their wearer is enthusiastic about either the Viper GTS or the more conventional RT/10. They're decorated with applique and suede and feature a likeness of the Viper GTS-R in suede and white leather on the back. The buyer has to be a true Viper aficionado since these imported items retail for between $400 and $450, depending on the size selected. For those who are not quite so devoted to the marque, a cloth version is offered for $65.

FOOTWEAR - It seems that no item of visible apparel is immune to automotive exploitation and Fastlane is a company that specializes in "identity merchandise." Its main claim to fame is that it makes shoes and boots for all occasions, the latest occasion being the Indianapolis 500 promoted and sanctioned by the new/old Indy Racing League. Fastwear produces high and low cut sports shoes in black or white and they carry almost as many different auto logos as those ever-present baseball hats. Fastlane also makes classic American western boots (no stirrup-friendly high heels or pointy toes, however) with small chromed Ford or Chevrolet plaques on the heels and toes, as well as steel-toed work boots with the same type of identification. Brand identification is also available on kid and baby shoes, on NASCAR Eva sandals for Mom and there are even NASCAR bedroom slippers available for Dad.

ZOOT SUIT - A "zoot suit" is a traditional business suit but in the extreme: the jacket reaches the knees and the matching pants are "pegged" at the ankles, very baggy at the knees, come up to the bottom of the pectoral muscles and are held in place by suspenders. In the '40s, they were much in demand by Mexican-Americans who labeled themselves "Pachucos." The skyrocketing enthusiasm for Lowriders (sedans and trucks that have been lowered almost to the ground and decorated with exotic paint and graphics) has given rise to a desire for zoot suits as authentic attire for Lowrider shows. The latest edition of LOWRIDER magazine has an ad for zoot suits by "El Pachuco" and they are authentic down to the wide-brim fedora hat, wide tie and long key chain.

CASUAL WEAR - Behind the wheel, he wears a driving suit like all the other good ol' boys, but who looks more stylishly casual trackside than Darrell Waltrip, three-time NASCAR Winston Cup Champion? As a result, Chase Authentics ("The Authentic Trackside Apparel of NASCAR (R)") uses Waltrip as a model for its slacks and shirts in its color advertisements in NASCAR MAGAZINE. Team logos are small and understated on an area above the left breast pocket of Chase shirts as opposed to the big, splashy graphics on automotive tee shirts, tanker jackets, and sweat shirts. Guys as classy as Waltrip don't have to shout their position in the racing's hierarchy with shirts that glow in the dark.

Next, I expect that canny Scot and former world champ Jackie Stewart to offer tartan kilts, sporrans and Balmoral caps with the logo of his fledgling Grand Prix team on them since it's a good way to generate funds. Say, maybe the Democratic National Committee can capitalize on the fact that Bill Clinton owns and drives a '66 Ford Mustang convertible.