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NASCAR Designer Spotlight – Ryan Pistana

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 Pistana, a NASCAR  graphic designer from Roanoke, Texas.

A designer who could be dubbed as a wunderkind, the 20-year-old completed the entire 2020 paint scheme rollout for Martins Motorsports and driver Tommy Joe Martins.

Additionally, Pistana found himself in an opportunity of a lifetime.. twice.

He got to work with rising star Hailie Deegan on her first full-time season in the ARCA Menards Series. Driving for the previously named DGR-Crosley, Pistana designed paint schemes for Craftsman, and Monster Energy, as well as her NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Kansas with Ford. As if that wasn’t enough, Pistana was the designer behind Ryan Vargas’ No. 6 TikTok Chevrolet that garnered national attention from outlets outside of NASCAR, helping to bring new fans into the sport utilizing one of the most popular apps in the world for 2020.

And what’s the insanity behind all of these achievements? Ryan is a student in college at Tarrant County College and is a freelance graphic designer.


How and when did you find your passion for design?

“I was one of those kids that always played with Hot Wheels cars and always trying to draw and create my own cars on paper, little 2-D views. Then I started getting into the NASCAR Videogames around NASCAR ’08 and NASCAR ’09 where you could design your own cars in the game. I wasn’t really that big into art besides that ‘sketching the cars’ phase. I think it was NASCAR 2011 (The Game) I want to say, where we met some of the people from Eutechnyx, they gave us a copy of the game for Playstation, and that’s when I started creating my own cars on there and I met a bunch of other people online that also did their own car designs. I started to take more time and effort into it.

Eventually, as I started taking photography courses and other courses that required Photoshop and other digital programs I realized that you can do the design work via computer and that’s how it’s actually done, not just on a video game. Just years and years in the making, I’ve kind of been self-taught. From access that I’ve gained over the past couple of years in the sport,  it’s really brought me to where I am now, where I am lucky enough to have designs on track, and I am even getting my degree right now in graphic design. So hopefully it becomes a future gig full-time.”

When did you first become a fan of NASCAR? Was it the moment Eutechnyx gave you the video game?

“When I was five years old, I remember my mom going to the Cingular store and she goes ‘Hey I need to get my phone fixed, and I am pretty sure I saw this cool race car there at the Cingular store’, and me loving Hot Wheels and race cars as a little kid, I was like ‘alright, sounds like a deal to me, let’s go.’ We got there, and it turns out Jeff Burton, driver of the Cingular car at that time is there, making an appearance, signing autographs for fans, and doing all of this stuff. So we got to take photos with the car, and I got to meet the driver. He shakes my dad’s hand and goes ‘hey, are you guys going to the race this weekend,’ and my dad looks at him and goes ‘I mean.. I guess we are now!’ So five-year-old me went to the 2005 Las Vegas race, that was my very first race.

Since 2005 until the Las Vegas race last year with no fans, I’ve been to every race since then when it comes to Cup, Xfinity, and Trucks. I know for sure I am keeping that going into 2021, I already got my tickets for both races in 2021 at Las Vegas. It kind of just all started there. As drivers were coming to Las Vegas for the races, they always were staying at certain hotels that my dad worked for so we got to meet more and more drivers like Michael McDowell, all the drivers for Michael Waltrip Racing, and JTG. So I kind of gained access to the sport that way based on my dad, now it’s turned to the point where I have more access that my dad and I kind of get him into the races, get him the passes. It’s kind of funny how the roles have reversed.”

How would you describe Ryan Pistana’s design style?

“It’s kind of a good mix of simple and complex. Every designer has their own style. One off the top of my head is Kyle Sykes. He has a very elaborate, kind of chaotic but it works sty;e. It’s always so complex but works out so good. You have guys like Harris Lue, obviously he is a big inspiration of mine. Even though he is a buddy of mine, I’ve met him a couple of times. He is very clean, he takes his time with his work. I can tell every little detail he adds. With me, I’ve only had cars on track for about two years now and I will say that there will be more in 2021. My design work is pretty simple. Flat color based, I don’t do as  many shadows and complex shapes and work arounds as some other people do. But to me, I am happy with it, the people I work with are happy with it. I feel that every designer can attest to, if they send a client multiple versions of a design, that designer will most likely have a favorite design of those. But the client doesn’t always pick your favorite, they always pick their favorite. So whether you like it or not, or your number one design or number two or number three sometimes that will never see the light of day. There are definitely some more designs behind the scenes that I will say have been more complex and I’ve taken a lot of more time into. But it just wasn’t exactly what the sponsor was looking for.”

You spent 2020 working with Hailie Deegan in both ARCA and her Truck debut. How did you get started with that opportunity?

“It all started because I met her about a year or two ago in Las Vegas when she came out here with a couple of her friends. She texted me over the offseason before 2020 and said ‘Hey, I want to get Monster a paint scheme on track.’ We all know that Monster typically follows their branding with their physical cans where the car is majority black. Hailie said that she wanted to change that. She gave me all of this reference materials and all the things that she wants to see. I did about a dozen designs for Monster to see which one they would prefer if they wanted to switch things up a little bit. They did pick out a couple that they wanted to set aside and edit for themselves and see if they could work, but in the end, they wanted to keep the solid black base. But one thing they allowed us to keep was the jaws, the teeth on the front of Hailie’s car, and even the Truck. I’m glad they allowed that so her Monster car is the only one that looks that way.

Going into 2021, we are already in talks about making that her theme, keeping those jaws on her car. As a girl, she said herself, she isn’t the pretty pink looking car with all these little nice designs on it. She like having the black, scary-looking car. It’s not what you expect. But since we weren’t able to do Monster, her other sponsor Toter has a similar color scheme to Monster so we got to do a couple of designs for them, even her Craftsman car, and then a bunch of other work in the near future. But for her truck debut, that was a  really nice change because… just a black and green design which typically you don’t see Monster do but Monster wasn’t the primary so it worked out that we had a different sponsor as the primary. Going into next year, hopefully, we see some cool stuff, I don’t know what to expect either myself, but I hope it’s good.”

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – OCTOBER 17: Hailie Deegan, driver of the #17 FORD Ford, enters her truck for the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Clean Harbors 200at Kansas Speedway on October 17, 2020 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

A couple of Hailie’s cars have been made into die-cast. What’s that feeling like to see your work on T-Shirts, die-cast and other merchandise that fans can buy?

“It definitely means a lot, obviously since I’ve been playing with the die-cast cars themselves since I was a little kid. One of my family friend’s Masen has definitely become a big inspiration of mine, and one of my biggest fans he’s only about seven years old but because of me, I helped him get into the whole race car scene, just fast cars as a little kid, that’s all he enjoys. Now that we have a couple of the 1:64 Hailie die-cast out, he thought that was the coolest thing ever that I designed that artwork on the car. I actually just ordered a couple for him, we got the Craftsman and the Toter car coming for him. I already know that is going to make his day, so seeing him happy over the situation makes me really happy and it’s just crazy to think there are hundreds or thousands of cars out there that are produced with my designs on it that kids are either collecting on their selves, or they’re playing with.”

As a freelance graphic designer, and a rising star driving your work on track, how does that feel that she is one of your clients?

“It’s a huge deal to me. There’s always that fine line between seeing a driver as a friend versus as just a driver. Me and Hailie aren’t super close like that, but it’s nice that she even reached out in the first place and she trusts me with these designs and she wanted to see what I could do. I’ve definitely thought about that going into the future that if I can manage to keep doing designs for her and her and the sponsors like it, I’d love to see where it could go one day. Monster Energy is one of the biggest sponsors I’ve worked for, hopefully going down the line that stays in tack, I’m definitely looking forward to that.”

For Martins Motorsports, you were tasked with designing their paint schemes for the No. 44 in 2020. What was it like working with Tommy Joe?

“With Tommy Joe, it’s honestly one of the most free-roaming I have in design because when it comes to all of his different sponsors, whether they are the new ones that hopped on board last year or his week-to-week sponsors, he is very open with the designs that I do. That’s something I’ve been lucky enough with most of my clients, in general, is reaching out to the driver and saying ‘hey what do you want to see on track?’ Tommy will usually tell me exactly what he wants, I know exactly what he wants, I send him a couple of versions and it’s as simple as that.

It’s been a huge opportunity in 2020 for me to have a car on track every single week of the season, including the hauler design, the fire suit designs, the crew uniform designs. It’s honestly just so cool even thinking about saying that out loud because I remember just a few years ago I was still making designs on my video games and just hoping one day it could become reality and now I got someone like Tommy who trusts me every single week to say that ‘this is Ryan’s design, he did this’ and it’s cool that my little logo is on the car too. Occasionally you’ll see that, but it’s a great opportunity, I’m really blessed with the opportunity.”

The Martins Motorsports 2020 Paint Scheme Portfolio (PC : Ryan Pistana)

“He still hasn’t realized how good he is at it, which is to my benefit for  my little team! But I think everyone else is seeing that and I’m glad that he is getting the recognition for it because he has always been this talented. It was only a matter of time. The first time he gets a Cup car on track that’s going to be a cool moment. I wish it was me, probably won’t be me but that’s okay! I would put him up against anybody in the business.”
– Tommy Joe Martins on Ryan Pistana

Was there anything you presented to him where he had a different idea, but ultimately favored your idea instead?

“Well.. at the start of the season, the passenger side of the car had the number leaning the opposite way. It sort of followed the line of Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 where on the driver side it leaned towards the rear wheels and on the passenger side, it also leaned the other way, so the number looked different on each side.

After about the third or fourth week, right about when the season came to a temporary stop, Tommy reached out and was like ‘hey I think I want to switch the direction we do the numbers’ and I was fine with that. It’s just little things here and there, I want to make the team look as professional as they can look so it doesn’t look like a couple of decals slapped on the car. So there are a couple of things I’ll tell you that we are looking at doing. Obviously, the manufacturer needs approval of this but we want to make the B-post black on all of the cars, I think that looks clean. I kind of want to do something similar to what Dale Jr. used to do back in the day with the black bumper on the back of the car, so long as the design doesn’t wrap around to the back. I sent that to Tommy and I know that he is a fan of that as well.

Me and him work really well together so if he like something, I’ll typically like it. If I think something looks decent and I send it to him, he’ll make a suggestion and I change it, and then it works out that way so we work pretty good hand in hand that way.”

When TikTok came into NASCAR with Ryan Vargas, you were the one behind the car and the team design of that rollout. How did you get involved in that process?

“That is such a cool story… I know Ryan and myself have posted different perspectives of how the deal came together with TikTok. I’ve personally never posted any TikTok’s in the past until this whole deal with Ryan, now I’ve become addicted to the platform.

Ryan (Vargas) used to post and share online how much he was a fan of TikTok and one day I just decided to whip up another concept design, which I still do occasionally when I have the time.  I thought that it would be cool if TikTok could sponsor an up and coming driver like Ryan – just one of those ‘what if’ deals.

So I shared it to my Instagram account and my Twitter account. I didn’t really get any major traction, just a couple hundred likes or something. Then, Ryan reached out how awesome he thought it was. About three or four weeks later I get a call from Ryan, me and him talk occasionally but I get a call from him which is rare. He told me that TikTok saw the tweet and there is a possibility that they want to make it happen. When I heard that, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was just such an awesome opportunity because a couple of weeks down the road, we are reaching out to TikTok’s creative team, their marketing team, and they didn’t want to change up the design. That was my biggest fear because I didn’t know if they wanted to change up the color scheme if they were going to want to add this, take away this, etc. But they loved the design the way it was, they said they wanted to keep it, the only thing they wanted to change was the correct branding on the car. Just so there could be the proper logos on the hood and the quarter panels. We obviously switch the door number of the car because J.D. Motorsports switches their car numbers around a little bit here and there.

Once that deal came on track, seeing that car in person, it was a dream come true and I was lucky enough to even see the car in person. A lot of my designs, since I don’t travel that much to races, it’s very rare that I’ll see multiple designs for a driver in person. But I was lucky enough to see the TikTok car in person. Ryan and JD Motorsports gave my friend and I a suite at the race and it ended up being Ryan and Tommy Joe’s best career finishes that weekend. So that was definitely something that I would never forget.”

You did all of this as a *freelance* graphic designer. To take it to that scale, you’re doing something that not many designers can say they’ve ever done.

“It puts a smile on my face. I’m definitely hoping to lock in something in the future once I’m done with the whole college thing, getting my degree. I definitely want to sit down and have a comfortable career in a certain position. But as a freelancer working with multiple teams, multiple drivers, being in contact with all of these big corporations and sponsors, representing their branding is definitely something I don’t take for granted. I know a lot of people on social media, a lot of up and coming graphic designers that wish they had the opportunity to do. I know I was in their shoes just as short as a year ago. Anything can happen, especially when it comes to the whole concept scene and people mocking up drivers and fictional designs. I did that with one of the biggest apps of the year and it came to reality, which kind of gives me goosebumps just saying that but I definitely don’t take it for granted.”

How are you balancing the time to work on all of these projects while respecting each team’s design language?

“It’s definitely tricky. Obviously as a student still in school, I have all of the school work that I am doing too, and most of my clients are pretty open with that, I’ll tell them that I have assignments coming up, and I am also working a 9 to 5 job so I have a couple of things going on all at once.

I will tell you one funny thing that whenever I get a project from a client, It’s never just one client. I’ll go about a few weeks without any work. Then I’ll get a text from Tommy saying that there is a new sponsor, we need to see a couple of designs. Then I’ll get a call from Ryan, saying that TikTok liked the design, let’s work on that. Then I’ll get a text from Hailie’s manager the next day, saying that she’s starting her truck debut, let’s see a design for that. It will all usually come in waves. I will say within the past 48 hours (of this recording in early January), I’ve had design requests from my family, other drivers, all at once. Pretty much all of winter break I had nothing. It’s definitely kind of stressful when the calls come at once but eventually when you lay it all out, I do have a calendar that I look at and lay everything out when the drivers want their projects by. Once I get that all laid out, it’s definitely just… have fun! I just try to have fun, create what I like, and hopefully, they like. If they want changes, we make changes. Definitely stressful when it can be, but at the same time it’s just fun.”

Let’s dive deeper into your 2020 design season. What was your favorite paint scheme of the season that you created?

“I think one of my favorites… now it is hard to choose.. I know I could say it’s like picking a favorite child. I kind of have to go with the TikTok car. But if I can’t pick that because of how way up there that already is,  probably the Skyview LA car for Tommy Joe Martins. It was that rainbow kind of throwback look car that the sponsor wanted. Originally, I don’t think I posted this anywhere, but originally they wanted to do a Jeff Gordon Rainbow Warrior throwback. Their color scheme for their company was very similar to the Rainbow Warrior look, but it wasn’t quite the same. We did it, we laid it out and me, Tommy, and the sponsor all in agreement said that it wasn’t the greatest looking thing in the world, so I said let’s just make our own retro car. Something that looks retro, but is new and has never been ran before. So we did that, just a very simple 80’s look to it and the sponsor loved it. I’ve seen plenty of people on social media say it’s in their top-10 designs of all the top three national series of the year. So that and the TikTok car are definitely the two that stand out to me.”

Tommy Joe Martin’s No. 44 Skyview LA Throwback Camaro (PC : Ryan Pistana)

How about the most time-consuming design?

“It’s kind of funny but it would probably be the original Skyview car for Tommy Joe. It was a very simple car, all black with just a couple of orange stripes but something that we wanted to do on the car was lay out Skyview’s.. kind of logo stamp all over the car. So it was black, and we wanted to do a hidden gray logo all over the car. So from certain angles, the car kind of has a camo pattern and we did that design on probably a few different renditions, probably a few dozen renditions of the car. So even though the car that hit the track looked very simple, behind the scenes there were dozens of concepts that we did where the car was primarily orange, primarily white, primary gray, and different designs for every color palette. Then the whole camo thing didn’t come out exactly how we wanted, but that project definitely a favorite for me because it was a brand new partner and sponsor for Tommy but that was definitely probably the most time-consuming I’ve spent on a project. Even though the car that hit the track was a very simple clean look.”

DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – MAY 21: Tommy Joe Martins, driver of the #44 Skyview Partners Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Toyota 200 at Darlington Raceway on May 21, 2020 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Between ones that hit the track, and concepts that never made it, how many paint schemes did you make in 2020?

“I had 19 designs hit the track, and I think it’s a good estimate to say on average I did anywhere from four to six concepts per design. There are some designs where we only did one or two and those are the ones that worked, and then there are projects like the Skyview car where I have a dozen sitting around. So multiply that by the 19 designs, probably a good 100 or more designs I’ve done in 2020 and only about 19 of them hit the track. So it really shows you the whole trial and error that goes into it just to get the sponsor exactly what they want.”

When you’re crafting a design, how often does the driver have a say in the design, or is it more so the sponsor?

“I’d say it’s a good 50/50 with who I’ve worked with. When it comes to Tommy, he and his sponsors are fairly on the same page. So if I show something, I’ll typically show it to Tommy first before the sponsors, so Tommy will give his input then we will send it to the sponsors and then the sponsors approve it. The same thing goes for guys like Will Rodgers who I’ve worked within the past. Typically he will tell me what he wants, and I’ll show him what he wants, and then we will send it to the sponsors.

When it comes to guys like Ryan Vargas and the TikTok car, that was kind of its own unique thing where TikTok already enjoyed what we saw, and obviously, Ryan did too.

When it comes to Hailie, I’ve definitely been reaching out more to her management and her team for their feedback on the designs from her because she’s obviously been a lot busier but it’s definitely a good 50/50. I love working with the drivers directly because it’s their car and what they’re going to be driving on the track and what they’ll be perceived as when people look at their cars.”

How important is social media to a freelance graphic designer?

“It’s extremely important. I know my graphic design account on Instagram, there have been a couple of designs I’ve posted in the last year or so that were just concepts of a driver I don’t work with, a sponsor I don’t work with but I was saying ‘hey, what if this happened?’A couple of months down the road and I’ll get an e-mail from a driver or sponsor that I am working with that wants to see a design, and because of all of these concept designs that I’ve done, I have probably had a few hundred concept designs that have never hit the track. If I really love a design, I’ll just swap the colors and put it on one of my new client’s work and we will do that. I will tell the client upfront that it’s a design I already had, what do you think of it?

Just little things like that where it will end up on track, makes a huge difference because it saves time, it saves them money for the client and we still get a good looking race car out on the track. As for other people on social media, it’s so cool scrolling through my Twitter feed, my Instagram feed all day, and seeing all of these people’s unique pieces of work. Even when it comes to the TikTok deal, I know there were plenty of people posting their own TikTok designs after we announced it. TikTok as a creative company as crazy and unique as they are, I know they’ve reached out to me and just wanted to say how greatly they appreciated seeing their branding represented in the sport as much as it has been. It’s a great scene, I love seeing all the concept work out there.”

Did you imagine in only two years you’d go from your first car on track to a full Xfinity season, and working with two popular rising stars?

“Mind-blowing. Not to pat myself on the back but I really hope it’s just the beginning. I’m definitely looking forward to the future, and seeing what else we can do with the people I’m already working with and whether clients are to come. There are more to come but I hate for this to sound like a whole motivation speech, but to all of those up and coming graphic designers, don’t give up, keep doing what you are doing. I know a lot of people can be hard on themselves. When it comes to the graphic design Discord community that you built. A lot of people love posting their work and then the feedback there, it’s just so great to see the interaction and all the thousands of people that love posting their own work. It’s definitely a possibility that someday, you never know what driver or sponsor will see your work and want to make that a reality. Keep posting all of your stuff, don’t quit. It’s so fun, it’s so cool just to see everyone involved.”


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