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NASCAR Designer Spotlight – JR Motorsports’ Ryan Williams

When a fan first discovers NASCAR, typically there are three things that could be a potential draw towards a growing love for the sport.

The speed, danger, and car designs. As a child, you may recall the first time you saw “that” paint scheme that sent your love of NASCAR into a lifetime relationship.

The design of a paint scheme is one of the very first things to entice a fan into finding their favorite driver and establishing allegiance to a particular team.

This special off-season series will take a look at designers in the sport that spent their 2020 season tirelessly cranking out paint schemes one after another. So much so, you may even learn about a favorite of yours that came from one of these designers.

This week’s spotlight shines brightly on Ryan Williams, a Graphic Designer at JR Motorsports.

His work in NASCAR spreads between multiple series and drivers, previously working with NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano at his management group, Clutch.

Last year, Williams received the opportunity to work for one of the most dominant Xfinity Series teams and add to their legacy of fantastic paint scheme designs that are often favorites with the fans, at 23-years-old.

 


Where did you find your passion for design?

“Growing up, I always liked drawing cars and doing art stuff. I was always good in the art courses in school. And then I guess I’m sure others have done the same thing, but playing the NASCAR games on PC and learning how to make my own paint schemes for the games gave me the idea that I can make a career out of this, I like doing this, so why not?”

How did you find your spot at JR Motorsports as a Graphic Designer?

“I had done work for Noah Gragson at Joey Logano’s management business, Clutch Management, where he was a client at the time. I was working for Logano for the management business and studio. Through Noah and the relationships built through Clutch and JR Motorsports, when the opening came up I was asked to interview and it all worked out. Before Clutch, it was sort of just Joey’s personal racing business and I was the designer on his management team. We worked on PSA deals, I maintained his website, do the t-shirts occasionally. I think maybe a year in or so to working for Joey, he started Clutch Studios and that morphed into the driver management business and got the opportunity to work with Noah pretty early on. I think it was his second year at KBM. I did some work for Cole Custer, some for Chase Briscoe.  I did a couple of cars for Noah, I did his Switch primary car for 2019, and the MagnaFlow car and the Patriotic Switch car.”

How would you define your ‘style’ of design and how did you find it?

“I found myself doing a lot of zigzags and triangles, it’s easy to do to make something look cool. I pull a lot of design inspiration from Blackbeard LTD, and Harris Lue. I love just kind of poppy colors, pop art kind of deal, not a ton of shading. I love the geometric style and the angle bits here and there. I rarely use curves which I need to get myself out of the box and try a bunch o different things It’s so easy to make cool cars with just angles, stripes and shapes with contrasting colors that it’s just naturally the first thing I do. You want to be a well-rounded designer but the sharp bits, polygons, poppy colors, if it looks like vector art, I’m all about it.”


When designing a paint scheme – how many concepts do you go through and what’s your timeframe like?

“It’s kind of all over the place in terms of the number of designs. There are times where you can sit down and do a car and it takes a few hours and that’s it. But then there are other times where I’ve spent two months working on a single project and then we are version 25 or 26. It’s minor updates or further down the road like the sponsor wants to go a different direction – it’s whatever they want. For more integral designs or ‘oddball’ stuff, generally, I’d like to take a few days.

What was your favorite design from the 2020 Xfinity Series season?

“Just in general, the project I was the most excited about was the John Andretti throwback car for Daniel Hemric. I know it didn’t run a whole lot at Darlington, but we got to run it again at Kansas which was really cool. It’s awesome when you get the email from the account manager that says ‘here’s the sponsor, come up with an idea for Darlington’. I always loved the K-Mart / Little Casers car, and I don’t really know why. I was talking with a co-worker just bouncing ideas, and I was like ‘what could we do for a good story that can tie into Poppy Bank and their colors with the orange and the white’,  and John Andretti’s Little Caesar’s car and orange and white on it. He had just passed away, and I didn’t know if anyone else would be doing a John Andretti throwback so if there was ever a time to do it, this would be the time to do it.

I wrote up the e-mail, found a bunch of pictures of the car, got everyone on board, did a mockup, drew the little guy on the hood, I actually did a version with Daniel. Instead of John with the firesuit guy, I did a version with Daniel on the hood too. That project from start to finish was a ton of fun, it felt good to actually do something that affected somebody. I didn’t expect the outreach that we would get, but I got an e-mail forwarded to me early on from the Andretti family about how appreciative they were and how much it meant to them. That was exactly what I hoped would happen, it;s not just a purple car with a No.8 – it has a story and a meaning behind it. When you’re doing a Darlington car, I don’t necessarily say you’re designing the car because someone else designed it in the past, you’re just running the car again. But to make it work with today’s sponsorships in today’s NASCAR and achieve the best possible tribute you can to John and the Little Caesar’s car, I was really happy with that.”

Daniel Hemric’s No. 8 Poppy Bank Throwback Camaro honoring John Andretti. (PC : Ryan Williams)

Some sponsors rarely would change their logos and colors because of their brand stylebook especially for a one-off race like Darlington. In a situation like Poppy Bank’s throwback, are those huge deviations driven more so by the designer or by the brand?

“I always try, especially for Darlington or a retro car, I try to go as far out as possibly can on the first review of the car. The first time you send that car over, that’s the first chance to get that car approved. It’s better to show that you can do this crazy level of work than work your way backward.  It depends on the sponsors – every relationship is different. Sometimes the sponsor wants everything ‘to the T’ on brand and they get what they want because they are the sponsor. Now and then, you’ll get the chance to go all out and they’ll be okay with you changing the font or colors to make the car as true as possible. In my opinion, the Darlington retro stuff, it’s important to go as true as you possibly can to the original car.”

What was a favorite moment from the 2020 season that involved a paint scheme of yours?

“Noah winning at Bristol was pretty cool – that was one of the first paint schemes I made from start to finish with little to no changes – just pulled the idea originally from myself – that was my first win at JR Motorsports. The first car that I designed that won a race was last year I believe with Cole Custer at Dover in the Performance Alliance car.

Some of the most nerve-wracking times are the few hours before a paint scheme gets revealed on social media. I knew that the Darlington cars would be received well and with those stories behind them. Unfortunately, Michael’s car got leaked. But seeing everyone’s reaction was really cool.”

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – JUNE 01: Noah Gragson, driver of the #9 Plan B Sales Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Cheddar’s 300 presented by Alsco at Bristol Motor Speedway on June 01, 2020 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

From the schemes that hit the track to the schemes that did not – how many did you design in 2020 as a whole?

“I guess the number of cars that I designed that make it on track… maybe if you run five to ten different paint schemes per car, I would say 20 or 30 across all four cars? As for the number of cars that didn’t see the light of day, that we did for proposals and different versions, I would say it would be around 150-ish. Sometimes there are cars that the sponsor would change so it’s not 150 different necessarily but 150-200 different versions across four cars during one year. This includes proposals that didn’t go anywhere, paint schemes that weren’t approved. And I don’t expect that to change for next season.”

What paint scheme design from the past season was the most time-consuming from start to finish?

“There is plenty that hasn’t seen the light of day… The car that I spent the most on that ran was Daniel Hemric’s ALSCO car at Charlotte. We had a lot of different versions that had camouflage incorporated, and one that was grey. Just finding the referencing images of the airplane to make sure everything was right with the finer details like the rivets and the body lines. That was the most time just getting it right from start to finish. Some cars never ran that I probably spent double time on.”

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA – MAY 25: Crew members prepare the #8 Alsco Uniforms Chevrolet, driven by Daniel Hemric for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 25, 2020 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

It seemed like Michael Annett’s designs were not that demanding -would you agree?

“I think happened a lot with his cars and some of the other paint schemes is that I started at JR Motorsports pretty late into the year. Maybe a year ago today at JR Motorsports, so obviously going into the offseason, some things are already designed. I kind of adopted a lot of schemes that were already approved like Michael’s Pilot design and Justin’s Brandt car. A lot of things were already set in stone, that was a lot of work that I didn’t have to worry about in the previous off-season. That was interesting because you kind of rehash a lot of things. I think Michael and his sponsor just love the simplicity and I had a pretty radical Pilot car this year that got toned back that we settled on. There is some stuff that is coming out soon that fans would really like that is pretty radical, at least in my mind.

It was interesting of the dynamic to come into the team late in the game when a lot of stuff is already set in stone so you just pick up the ball and run with it for a season until this offseason where you can show your ideas for the car or sponsor. ”

Some designers I’ve spoken to get to work with the drivers. In your personal experience, how often do you work hand-in-hand with the driver when designing a paint scheme?

“It depends on if the driver is in the building when I’m working on it. Allgaier comes into my office a ton, he loves doing design work so we get along. Noah and I are good friends so he will come in, and just hang out. It’s usually just if I’m working on a car for Justin and he walks by, he’ll walk in and he and I will bounce ideas off each other all the time and we will text each other about some scheme stuff. Noah is the same, he’s really hands-on, he wants his car to look cool as much as I do, so he’ll come in, and throw out some ideas. Michael, I haven’t seen a ton of him but he has input on his stuff as well. I’m sure with the new stuff coming for the No. 8, I’m sure Sam (Mayer) and Josh (Berry) will have some ideas and input. It’s not necessarily every day or every car thing. If we run ten different cars for Justin next year, he maybe saw three of those before they got approved. It’s mostly the sponsors that get the say.”

When a driver offers their input, does that make your job easier, or harder?

“It kind of depends, if they come in and say ‘well what if you did this or that’ then you have to change up a bunch of stuff if they’re all about it, then that helps with the push for further down the road when you’re trying to get further approvals. Dale is really hands-on with the Darlington retro-stuff, so whenever we have an idea or we are proposing, I always send it to Dale first because I know he is very passionate about the retro stuff and he would want it to look great as much as I would.”


Have you ever proposed a forward-leaning No. 8 and will we ever see it on track?

“I don’t think I ever formally proposed a forward-leaning No. 8 being a new person still (or at least I feel like it) I don’t want to come in and make sweeping changes as a 24-year-old designer and step on anyone’s toes. I do like the look of the forward-leaning No. 8 and we will have to see what happens. If I had to guess it would probably be in a virtual sense like iRacing first to test the waters, I don’t know. I personally already run a forward-leaning No. 8, I posted the one I’ve been using.”

“It’s honestly up in the air, I don’t foresee any major changes coming. I certainly like the look but it’s out of my control. That’s up to Dale and other people in terms of what number font we run.

I am actively working on getting painted side skirts! I always want to push the boundaries even though I’ll get flack for it. Jordan Erickson did a great job when he was designing for Junior and set the tone for when I first came in.”

You mentioned painted side skirts – Is there a process behind figuring out if a car should have them?

“It depends on the car and the sponsor. If we are going to run the Pilot car all year, the entire car gets painted red including the skirts, then we can wrap what is needed to save money. The Brandt car is painted that DayGlo Orange Red color and we put black, clear vinyl on top of that. When we know a car is going to run a ton, it’s easy to justify the extra cost to wrap to paint the skirt. if it is a one-off, usually when I go into the design knowing it’s not going to run a ton, I’ll try to design black or white near the bottom so the skirt fits in.

When I first started, you don’t understand the limitations that you have, you just think that you’ll design whatever you want and that it lights the world on fire. Then you take a seat back and realize that you cant do certain things with the skirts. If the car is painted white, why not help the team save money and not do a huge crazy wrap all over. Do something that its white to save costs. As much as I want wrapped or painted side skirts I think going into the design differently knowing that the skirt is black or white kind of helps the design at the end of the day and keeps everyone happy, whether it’s the shop foreman or the sponsor.”


How does it feel personally to be able to put your design work into NASCAR?

“I’m really lucky and fortunate to be able to be doing what I’m doing from working at a sign shop to working for Joey Logano and now JR Motorsports, I feel really lucky to get paid to draw racecars all day. Even making cars for iRacing during COVID. I remember talking to Dale on the phone and he was apologizing for making me work on iRacing stuff and I told him ‘I’m getting paid to make cars for iRacing like I would be doing this for free this is like what I want to do’ so I can’t complain, this is all I want to do.”

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