About fifteen years ago, we found ourselves in the middle of something wonderful: while working on the DeWalt Tools advertising campaign, we spent an afternoon on the phone with none other than Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.
Now, at the time, the agency had hired one of the best Creative Directors we’d ever had the pleasure to work under – a guy who’d spent his years on Madison Ave. in heyday of advertising: no, not the “Mad Men” Sixties, but the coked-up, mustachioed Seventies. And Nick was half the creative team at the legendary shop, Backer Spielvogel, that dreamt up the “Tastes Great, Less Filling” campaign for Miller Lite. So, when he said, “Look –– you put the Eiffel Tower in enough of your storyboards, sooner or later you’re going to Paris…,” we listened.
Except, as dyed-in-the-naugahyde gearheads, our Eiffel Tower was in Manti, Utah. The one and only Ed Roth had apparently gone Mormon and moved to the homeland and was enjoying a well-deserved resurgence in popularity ever since the Kustom Kulture exhibit had traveled the country about five years prior.
Back to DeWalt: we had just fulfilled one of our long-time dreams by working with Roth to create an original illustration for a sweepstakes that the yellow-n-black toolmaker was rolling out. Our idea hinged on the notion that if DeWalt was going to give away a plain, white Chevy contractor van filled with their coveted power tools, nobody but the king of the weirdo monster hotrodders could be considered to put a little english on an otherwise wholly dull visual. Plus, what circular saw-swingin’ roofer didn’t grow up with a pile of Roth model kits and knockoff decals? Right: ZERO. And it didn’t hurt that the head guy over at DeWalt was a Roth fiend, too.
So, when DeWalt came back to us with a new NASCAR team headed up by a young Matt Kenseth and needed a paint scheme for its #17 Lumina, we already had a good long-distance phone relationship with Big Daddy. “Hey, Ed–ever design a Winston Cup car paint scheme? No? Want to?” Next thing we knew, it was all warty, purple monster arms and yellow power tools and about a skillion ideas flying back and forth over a phone and a fax machine. Wheel wells incorporated into a circular saw on the fenders so that the spinning wheels became the saw blade (Ed figured the wheels’ RPM got close to the saw blades’ at one time or another), door space used filled up with Rothian monster arms, roof numbers rendered in the same hand-drawn lettering that came out of Roth Studios in Maywood decades before…it was all just glorious, man. GLORIOUS.
We walked into the conference room with our DeWalt NASCAR package, ready to do some serious, PowerPoint-melting damage. Really blow some minds, right? And after the dog-n-pony show, we unleashed about half-a-dozen boards with some of the most inventive and inspired use of sheetmetal surfaces we’d ever seen in stock car racing. The clients, in matching yellow polo shirts and khakis with the latest in braided leather belts that the J Crew catalog had to offer, looked at each other, then us and…
And after a long, painful pause, the head DeWalt-Yellow banana turned to us and said, “Are you making fun of us?”
OK. Clearly, the idea of being the first and only brand to ever hire Ed Roth –– the undisputed king of Custom Car Culture –– to design a Winston Cup car’s paint scheme was lost on these guys. Not to mention the merchandising opportunities borne of the original automotive merchandising genius. “That hand – the one holding the saw – it only has four fingers. Which implies, to me, that the operator might’ve lost one using the DW368 in an improper manner.” And gems like, “Why are there flies buzzing around that eyeball? Is it diseased or sick or something?” Or, “We make serious tools and this racing business is serious stuff. And it seems like you just want to have fun with our money.”
So, you’re never going to see an Ed Roth-designed NASCAR paint job. Ever. Lord knows we tried. And Ed was as excited about the possibilities back then as we were. It’s fair to say we just never expected the reaction we got in the conference room that day, but we squirreled away a precious few of the initial sketches and faxes that flew back and forth between Manti and the East Coast, even though the full-color presentation boards are probably long gone.
And here they are. Enjoy.