When Bowyer’s No. 15 Aaron’s/Alabama National Championship Toyota hits the front stretch, the Crimson Tide fans in the crowd will be cheering as wildly as if Dale Earnhardt Jr. had just taken the lead, while the Auburn fans in the crowd will be rooting for, well, something bad.
It was the same way last year when the company rolled out a National Championship Toyota with Auburn colors and the Alabama National Championship Toyota in 2010.
“When (that driver) comes across that stage in that fire suit, you hear those fans,” said Rich Lamprey, Aaron’s director of sports marketing. “You hear those cheers, and you hear the boos.”
Aaron’s hasn’t just jumped on Alabama’s statewide championship train. It also put out a car with a Texas burnt orange paint scheme at Texas Motor Speedway after the Longhorns’ national championship in 2005. And it was prepared to do it again if the Longhorns had beaten the Tide in the Rose Bowl two years ago — just not here.
The national championship paint schemes are an outgrowth of the company’s corporate sponsorships with those schools and part of its outreach to connect with customers.
And with a recently signed deal with IMG that connects Aaron’s to a total of 36 college athletics programs, there could be a national championship paint scheme coming to an appropriate track near you.
There already is discussion of putting a Kentucky-themed car at Kentucky Speedway to commemorate the Wildcats’ basketball national championship.
“Michael Waltrip (the long-time driver of Aaron’s flagship car here) is a Kentucky boy, so minutes after the final buzzer went off, my phone was blowing up from Michael saying we need to do a championship car,” Lamprey said. “I’d love to and I’m working on it, but we haven’t worked out all the details yet.”
Waltrip drove the Auburn car to a 28th-place finish last year; he’ll drive Aaron’s Color Your Way Toyota Sunday. David Reutimann drove the Alabama car to a 14th-place finish two years ago.
It all flies in Alabama. But what if LSU hadn’t been contained to just 50 yards and somehow scored enough points to beat Alabama? Or Oregon had taken out Cam Newton and Auburn? Would there have been a purple-and-gold Tigers car taking laps on Talladega’s 2.66-mile tri-oval? Or a green-and-gold?
“We would have celebrated (LSU’s) championship; I’m not sure I would have done it at this speedway,” Lamprey said. “I have to be respectful of the Alabama fans.
“If LSU had won, there aren’t any race tracks there, so we’d have been in a little bit of a quandary as to what to do. Certainly a lot of LSU fans come here. A lot of LSU good fans go to Texas. … Luckily, we didn’t have that issue.”
The program involves more than just putting the car on the track. There’s a show-car program that makes stops at various Aaron’s outlets across the state. Tide coach Nick Saban signed the hood of this year’s car at A-Day.
In addition to the Alabama paint scheme, Bowyer, a self-described “pretty big” Kansas fan, has an image of Bear Bryant painted on his helmet.
“It was actually my idea about the helmet,” said Bowyer, winner of two of the last three Talladega races. “I always have icons on the back of my helmets... Trying to think of something to do with Alabama, it was only fitting to have Bear Bryant on the back of it.
“Talladega is good to me, had a lot of fun there, and I can’t think of anything bigger than to win in Talladega with the Alabama car.”
Al Muskewitz is a sports writer for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.