Saturday, March 2, 2024

Bubba Wallace to race Star Wars livery in Phoenix

Ryan Blaney might be competing for a NASCAR Cup Series championship, but he’s certainly going to be jealous of his best friend’s ride for the season finale at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday. To commemorate sponsor Columbia Sportswear‘s upcoming collaboration with Star Wars, Bubba Wallace‘s #23 23XI Racing Toyota Camry will feature a special livery resembling an X-Wing starfighter.

The car was revealed Tuesday with a guest appearance from Mark Hamill, who portrays series protagonist Luke Skywalker. Wallace’s helmet and firesuit for the race are modelled after those worn by Rebel Alliance pilots; Jays Racewear, who produced the suits worn by pilots and other military personnel in the original trilogy, also specialises in making suits for motorsport.

The Incom T-65 X-Wing is the lead starfighter in the Rebel Alliance fleet, appearing in all three films of the original trilogy. A successor model, the T-70, served the same role for the New Republic and Resistance in the sequel trilogy. The prequels, theatrically released between the two trilogies but takes place prior to both, did not feature the X-Wing line though the ARC-170 was the Republic Navy’s choice of all-around fighter before its template was used by Incom to develop the X-Wing. As such, the X-Wing’s silhouette is one of the most recognisable vehicles both in-universe and in real life.

Wallace’s car is based on the Rebels’ T-65, sporting red stripes along the sides to reflect Red Squadron, the unit that Luke served in at the Battle of Yavin in the first Star Wars film released in 1977. The lower front quarter panel features the S-foil wings that can open and close for combat, creating the X shape that is synonymous with the X-Wing. The dual 4L4 fusial thrust engines at the rear can give off the impression of tail lights, which are not used in stock cars, for those unfamiliar to the sport.

An astromech droid, particularly an R2 unit designed after R2-D2, appears on the roof next to the number.

The Star Wars logo is prominently featured on the hood and rear alongside Columbia. Ironically, an actual military contractor Leidos is also a sponsor on the #23.

Unfortunately for fans, Lionel Racing stated after the reveal that they currently have yet to receive approval to make licenced diecasts. 23XI Racing president Steve Lauletta in turn criticised Lionel’s minimum order quantity policy for impeding the process; 1:64 diecasts require 2,500 pre-orders while 1:24 must have 500 to guarantee production.

“We are all working on it but as you can imagine a lot of different brands involved but all fans should know we are trying and doing our best to deliver this program to the fullest,” wrote Lauletta.

Star Wars liveries first appeared in NASCAR during the prequel trilogy’s run in the early 2000s. Jeff Gordon‘s #24 promoted the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace in the 1999 Xfinity Series race at Charlotte. Three years later, John Andretti did the same for Episode II: Attack of the Clones three years later at the Coca-Cola 600 as his #43 Cup machine was split in half, with one side represented by light with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker while the other was dark with bounty hunters Jango Fett and Zam Wesell.

The third and final film of the series, Revenge of the Sith, prompted an explosion in promotional schemes in 2005. At Phoenix, M&M’s provided themed cars for Robert Yates Racing‘s Elliott Sadler and Dale Jarrett: Jarrett’s #88 promoted milk chocolate M&M’s for the “light side of the Force” while Sadler’s #38 was the candy’s dark chocolate variant to symbolise the dark side. Gordon won at Talladega later that year in a Pepsi car with Yoda on the hood, while his Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Kyle Busch did the opposite two weeks later with Darth Vader at Richmond. Formula One team Red Bull Racing also had an SW-branded car for that year’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Although Star Wars‘ new owner Disney has arranged one-off sponsorships with other properties like Cars (coincidentally, Wallace voiced a character in the third film and had an Xfinity car plugging it), the sequel trilogy did not have any promotional schemes. The last SW-related livery came at the 2015 Xfinity season finale at Homestead when Erik Jones‘ #20 featured the Star Wars: Battlefront game in conjunction with GameStop. Since then, any on-track crossover between the two realms has been confined to drivers like Brennan Poole and Matt Mills wearing special helmets; Mills, who went by the nickname “Red Five” (Luke’s callsign in Red Squadron) when he raced the #5 Xfinity car, has also used an R2-D2 theme on his dummy roof camera and a pit sign that blends elements of the Rebel Alliance’s starbird symbol. Blaney is a longtime fan of the series and has a Darth Vader tattoo on his right leg.

“This is bittersweet,” Mills quipped on social media about Wallace’s sponsorship.

Columbia’s newest Star Wars collection will launch on 1 December. The apparel company has frequently joined forces with the franchise to produce limited-edition parkas, typically inspired by an ongoing show or a throwback to the original films. Judging by Wallace’s car and Columbia’s marketing, the 2023 series appears to be based on the Battle of Yavin.

Wallace is currently tenth in points.