Dale Earnhardt Sr., Father of the All-Star Paint Scheme

Dale Earnhardt’s Silver Goodwrench paint scheme for the 1995 All-Star race.

The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race is an event where special, one-off paint schemes have been commonplace in recent years.

This year, for example, Brad Keselowski’s iconic “Blue Deuce” No. 2 Penske Racing Ford will carry a mosaic paint scheme that was actually created by thousands of photos that fans sent in to the team. It’s the kind of quirky and innovative promotion that fans have come to expect from the reigning series champion.

“I think what’s really important to both me and for Miller Lite is do things that are unique and fun and authentic and kind of creative,” Keselowski said. “Social media, I have my own views of it, and I want it to be fun. I don’t want it to be just kind of a blah sponsor message. And I think Miller Lite appreciates that as well.”

Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 fan mosaic paint scheme for the 2013 Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Keselowski is not alone in the special paint scheme department this weekend. 

As he did last year, Jimmie Johnson will carry a patriotic red, white and blue scheme on the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Danica Patrick’s Chevrolet will fly “Go Daddy Cares” colors in honor of three charities her sponsor supports, while Patrick’s boss, Tony Stewart, will salute the National Wild Turkey Federation.

So why all these wild looks for the Sprint All-Star race?

Actually, the roots of special-paint-scheme-mania go all the way back to 1995 and the late Dale Earnhardt.

Back then, the Sprint All-Star Race was known as The Winston, in honor of series sponsor R.J. Reynolds. Just as importantly, back then most every team used one and only paint scheme the whole season long. In those days, there weren’t multiple primary sponsors for each car that rotated during the season.

Earnhardt, of course, was known as “The Man In Black,” and his fearsome jet black No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was the most iconic and recognizable paint scheme of the day.

So when Earnhardt showed up at The Winston with a silver paint scheme to honor RJR’s 25th anniversary in NASCAR, it sent shock waves through the garage. Nobody expected Earnhardt or RCR to ever change colors, especially given the strong connection between the driver and his intimidating paint scheme.

In the pre-Twitter, pre-24-hour-news-cycle NASCAR world, Earnhardt changing colors was one of the biggest stories of the entire season — especially since he didn’t win The Winston.

In the ’95 edition of The Winston, Earnhardt ran well for much of the night, but got loose in the final segment, slid up into Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon dove low to become the youngest winner in the history of the event.

For some, Earnhardt’s silver paint scheme was a curse.

“Maybe it was like Michael Jordan wearing No. 45 and losing his jump shot,” wrote Charlotte Observer columnist Ron Green.

But in terms of commercial success, it was a bonanza. A limited run of silver No. 3 diecast cars sold out virtually instantaneously.

From then on, the RCR No. 3 has a different paint scheme for every all-star race, and sales of diecasts and t-shirts soared for Earnhardt, who was on the cutting edge of merchandising, even if that wasn’t his original intent.

So while Earnhardt sadly is no longer with us, his influence is still very much felt in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage, especially this weekend, when all the new paint schemes you’ll see can be traced back to 1995.

Here’s a look back on some of Earnhardt’s most memorable All-Star paint schemes:

1997 All-Star Race – Paint Scheme to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Olympics hosted in Atlanta.

1997 All-Star Race – Wheaties Paint Scheme

1998 All-Star Race – Bass Pro Shop Paint Scheme

2000 All-Star Race – Wild paint scheme designed by Peter Max