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What are Racing Stripes?

By Matthew F.
Updated May 23, 2024
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Racing stripes are a type of car paint job that usually has lines painted across the length of the car. They are most often seen on high-performance cars capable of driving at fast speeds, but are are also sometimes seen on standard cars to make them appear fast. The stripes are most commonly seen as two parallel stripes across the length of the car and down the hood, excluding the windows, spaced just inches apart. What began as a practical auto detail on a team of car racers in the 1950s evolved into a flashy design for car racing enthusiasts and those with a sense for flair.

The stripes that are now known as today’s racing stripes were first seen on the Cunningham team of racing cars in the 1950s. They were an American automobile racing team who raced in both the United States and in Europe, and was founded and ran by Briggs Cunningham. Cunningham decorated each of his cars with racing stripes – the team’s traditional white stripes on blue – so that fans and teammates could identify them in the field during a race. They also allowed a spun-out driver to align his car with the road or the circuit.

Following the use of racing stripes by Cunningham, called “Le Mans stripes” after a popular French race of the day, they came into common use by other teams. By the 1960s and early 1970s they could be seen around the world by various racing teams as well as on road cars. Carroll Shelby was the next to popularly use the racing stripe on his Cobra sports car that became known as the “Shelby.”

Soon after Cunningham and Shelby, car manufacturers began producing cars with racing stripes standard – straight out of the factory. Most notably many compact sport cars began introducing the new fashion statement, and recently the Dodge Viper has gain notoriety with racing stripes, inducing many to call them “Viper Stripes.”

The tradition of racing stripes has faded in and out of popularity since the early 1970s. What was once used only for modified performance vehicles has since the 1970s also been applied to standard cars, to give them the look of road racers. The stripes have for this reason gained the comic nickname “go-faster stripes,” an insult leveled at those wishing to appear to have customized cars, without them. Some even add numbers to the hood, doors, or windows to reinforce this image began by racing stripes.

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Discussion Comments
By Emilski — On Apr 06, 2012

@kentuckycat - I agree with the fact it will last for awhile and to be honest i do not have much of a problem with it, simply because I do not think that it is a big deal in the first place and is just another paint job on a car.

I feel like a car's paint job is like a house, if you do not like it you can change it, or you can live with what color it is. That is why I feel like some people do not judge the car they buy with the racing stripes simply because they are thinking of the car itself and how it runs and not really what it looks like.

I will admit if I added racing stripes to my car it would look ridiculous, but I really would not care if I had them because it would run the same way and that is what I am concerned about in a car.

I guess it is a matter of what one is looking for, but I really think that the matter of racing stripes is more than just a seeking of status, it can also be something that just came with the care in order to get someone to buy it and the owner does not really care about it.

By kentuckycat — On Apr 05, 2012

@JimmyT - Well to be totally and completely honest, I think that for the most part it is just a way people try too look cool or as you said, and I emphasize in rare cases, to be done as a joke.

I once had a truck I was trying to sell that was a real beat up, old clunker. After having absolutely no one interested in it for a very long time, no matter how low the price was, I took some vinyl and just added racing stripes to it and I sold it in a week for 250 dollars, despite the fact I had it down to 50 dollars without the stripes!

I know the guy that bought it, wanted it for the stripes and the fact it ran simply because he thought the stripes looked neat and did not care that the truck looked ridiculous with them.

To be honest I really see this as just a fad that I think will someday leave, but then again with people having access to cheaper sports cars nowadays I will not be surprised if it continues for a long long time.

By JimmyT — On Apr 04, 2012

@jmc88 - To be totally honest I am not entirely sure why someone would want to do something like that. I am guessing that common sense avoids them or they are simply looking to be accepted into a particular clique.

I teach high school and I have noticed that many students will get racing stripes on their cars, and it will usually be something like a Buick or car that is not associated with being fast, that they add it to and it just looks silly.

I feel like this is a cry for acceptance or possibly just something someone may do as a joke as they simply have a car that is not supposed to have something like a racing stripe on it, so they add it anyway.

I never really understood this phenomenon, but I am guessing that its origin comes from the rise of auto racing as a whole and just the fact people began to judge status more in card as opposed to other possessions.

I really do not understand this and I am really wondering if someone could shed some light on why it has taken off the way it has.

By jmc88 — On Apr 04, 2012

It seems to me like racing stripes simply seem like a way for someone to make their car appear to be faster, as people that take a lot of pride in what they drive see speed as a major way to identify who has the better car.

I know many people that have added things like, spoilers, fins, racing stripes, and spinners to their cars in a rather pathetic attempt to simply land them more status and make them appear cooler. The problem in this situation is that they will not usually have a car that should have something like this on it and it just makes them and their car look absolutely ridiculous.

I find it interesting that these types of signals can be used in an attempt to make someone appear to have a better car than what they have, yet nearly everyone is able to see right through it. This is always something that has fascinated me and I am really wondering exactly why this is so?

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