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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.