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A Paint Job With a Purpose

Times Staff Writer

The appearance of an ad for the movie “The Passion of the Christ” on the hood of Bobby Labonte’s Interstate Batteries Chevrolet is the latest in a trend of one-race paint schemes on Nextel Cup cars for NASCAR races.

“This outstanding movie factually portrays the most important 12 hours in history,” said Norm Miller, chairman of Interstate Batteries and the person who proposed the idea to car owner Joe Gibbs.

In an environment where millions of dollars are paid to have names as diverse as Viagra, Budweiser, Home Depot and the Army displayed on the sides of race cars, the “Passion” display is on the hood because the story of the picture is important to Miller.

“We are privileged to be a part of its promotion to the world. Besides that, it may well be the No. 1 box office attraction of the year. I certainly hope so,” Miller said.

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The movie, produced and directed by Mel Gibson, depicts the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ. Its praises have been dotted with criticism, particularly by the Jewish community with claims it might breed anti-Semitism.

“It’s a chance to get the word out,” about being a Christian said Labonte, a regular at Motor Racing Outreach chapel services each racing Sunday. “I know how much it has impacted my family and my family’s life.”

Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus, is expected to be in Labonte’s pit on race day. Caviezel’s background in racing includes driving the Chevrolet Corvette pace car in the 2002 Indianapolis 500.

All but the hood of Labonte’s No. 18 Chevy will retain its normal red and green coloring of Interstate Batteries. The hood, with a cloudy sky background, says “The Passion of the Christ” across the top, with “In Theaters 02.25.04" below.

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Although figures vary from car to car, a hood placement could be worth as much as $250,000 for Daytona, less for other races.

Having a biblical reference on his car is nothing new for Gibbs, who credits religious beliefs for much of his success as a football coach and race car team owner. His Washington Redskins won three Super Bowls, his cars won the 2000 and 2002 Winston Cup championships.

John 3:16, a reference to a biblical verse, appears on all of his race cars.

“I know Norm Miller is a big supporter of the film, and I hope we can bring him and Jim Caviezel a win in the Daytona 500,” Labonte said. Miller used the No. 18 car to promote other films, “Toy Story 2" and “The Hulk,” in recent years.

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The idea of one-off paint jobs began when the late Dale Earnhardt’s black No. 3 Chevrolet was painted silver for the Winston, an all-star race, to honor Winston’s 25th anniversary as the series sponsor.

Another one will be on Jeff Burton’s Ford in Sunday’s race. “NBA All-Star Game on TNT” will be on the hood, advertising the basketball telecast after the Daytona 500 on TNT.

One of the most popular hood designs was one promoting the Kentucky Derby on Jeremy Mayfield’s car for the 1999 California 500 at Fontana.

There will be other one-race paint jobs this season.

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Five drivers will each drive one Busch series race in cars designed to promote the National Guard and Reserve. Chevrolet drivers Kevin Harvick, Kerry Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, Labonte and Ricky Craven will participate in the promotion organized by team owner Richard Childress and the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

Stewart will drive in the May 1 race at California Speedway in a car with a Marine motif.

Race fans will help determine how Sterling Marlin’s Dodge will look later in the season. They may vote for one of three paint schemes posted on www.prilosecotc.com.

Voting will end April 30, and the winning design will appear in Sunday newspapers that weekend. It will be unveiled on the car May 28 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C.

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The emergence of the die-cast car industry has proliferated the trend, as it became fashionable and profitable to have a variety of paint schemes during the season. Each toy car has become a collectors’ item.


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