Feature Article, Motorsports Industry, Washington — June 25, 2004 at 5:37 pm

RaceCals (issue 59)

by

59-racecals

 

By Steve Heeb

A narrow country road snakes its way through miles of the most beautiful farmland you’re likely to find inWestern Washington. Almost 10 miles out ofAuburn, out of civilization, hides the headquarters for a business that has been changing the look of motorsports for more than 20 years.

Nestled in the wooded hillside overlooking Flaming Geyser State Park, an array of colorful stickers on the door of an otherwise non-descript garage are the only indication that one has arrived at MJB Screenprint, home of RaceCals.

Inside, hundreds-maybe thousands-of stickers cover almost every inch of wall space as a colorful testament to the artistic talent of Andy Benedetti.

Wife Karen sifts diligently through a stack of oval souvenir stickers, simultaneously ensuring the quality of each and every decal, while hand counting what will be a run of 20,000 stickers. Commissioned by NASCAR, the oval stickers commemorate the inaugural season of the Nextel Cup Series and will be shipped to tracks nationwide. Beyond an added wall that subdivides the 2,400 sq. ft. facility, son Joe also is busy checking the quality of the stickers as they pass through the state-of-art semi-automatic flat bed screen press. The six-color design demands absolutely precise registration at every stage, and the Benedetti family business is up to the challenge.

To say that during the last two decades the Benedettis have built RaceCals into racing’s premier source for racing stickers doesn’t justify their impact on the sport. Andy, Karen and sons redefined the relation between racer and race fan, and very likely helped launch stock car racing as the mega-industry it is today.

In the early ’70s, Andy split his time between racing flat track motorcycles and his Auburn-based sign painting business, AdArt Signs. On a whim, he made a batch of 60 black and white stickers that simply read: Flat Track. He handed them out to racing buddies and the stickers were quite popular, but dispersed quickly.

It wasn’t until the early ‘80s that the sticker idea resurfaced. Andy took the three sons-Ben, Joe and Mike-to watch a race at Evergreen Speedway. With three sons in tow, Andy was struck by the cost of items available at the souvenir stand.

“All they had was the bigger ticket items,” Andy recalls. “No trinket stuff.”

That’s when he got the idea of printing inexpensive racing stickers for the more budget-conscious race fans.

In those days, Joe Doellefeld was promoter at Spanaway Speedway and was Andy’s first customer. Andy prepared about 20 designs including “I’d Rather Be Stock Car Racing,” and the RaceCals line was born. Of course, some of the designs included “I’d Rather Be Dirt Track Racing” and other simple slogans that could be adapted for whatever type of racing was available at the local track.

Andy was keeping long hours, painting signs during the day and printing stickers at night.

The following year, Seattle Int’l Raceway promoter Jim Rockstad pointed Andy to the annual Race Promotions Monthly convention inReno. Andy took a small display of his designs to the November RPM show and credits the exposure to all of the attending track promoters as an unexpected turning point for RaceCals.

“All of the tracks wanted custom designs,” he explains. “It wasn’t in the plans. But it was encouraging.”

RPM founder Stew Reamer recalls the first time Andy attended the workshop.

“He and I sat in my hotel room and he had some samples of his work,” Reamer recounts, and offered encouragement to the rookie entrepreneur. “This is really what promoters need.”

Reamer suggested Andy prepare some displays for counters in the concession stands so potential customers wouldn’t have to search too hard for the stickers.

“Because his products were so good, it kind of took off on its own,” Reamer adds of RaceCals’ initial success.

Andy recalls RaceCals’ first real custom sticker was a two-color design made for IMCA-founder Keith Knack.

The Benedettis couldn’t afford to attend the Daytona RPM convention the following February, but it was clear that RaceCals was going to be successful and Andy slowly phased out sign painting over the next two years.

“I don’t know where we would be without the show,” Andy says, pointing out that the RPM founder Stew Reamer took Andy under his wing. “They felt I was really helping the sport.”

As things got rolling for RaceCals, Andy and Karen decided that it was time to move the family out ofAuburn, relocating the family business into the hillside near Black Diamond. All three sons worked in the shop, which was on the same property as the Benedetti home. Joe would come home from junior high school and change straight into his work clothes. He was saving to buy a go-kart.

It was still years ahead of computers, the designs were all drawn by hand. Andy made 25-mile trips intoTacomato have the work typeset and have films made.

In 1986, Andy did make the trip to Daytona for the RPM show and was immediately impressed by the magnitude of the racing community in the southern states.

“Daytona was my first taste of the diehard NASCAR fans,” Andy says. “It was hard to believe that people were completely attired in Petty stuff. Jackets to buckles to you name what.”

Andy knew he was looking at a whole new market. More than just general racing fans, these were true fans of specific drivers.

He met Jack Martin, the souvenir guru for RJ Reynolds, and soon Benedetti was producing stickers for the likes ofRichardPetty, Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott. Within a year, the RaceCals line included all the popular drivers.

“Until then, there weren’t a lot of fan-based souvenirs,” Andy says. “We saw you could put a slogan on a sticker and fans wanted it.”

A lot.

“Like ‘Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.’” Andy continued. “In a little way we changed how souvenirs were marketed.”

Before RaceCals, most of the stuff that was available centered on the sponsors. Andy turned it around so that the emphasis was on the drivers.

In 1988, a line of “Fan On Board” products was in the RaceCals catalog, and the diamond placards could be found suction-cupped to cars boasting a person’s loyalty to Petty, Elliott, Wallace and the likes.

In the early ’90s, The Benedetti’s family business had exploded and the messages printed on colorful RaceCals stickers spoke volumes for the racing community-driver stickers on the bumpers of cars in the parking lot, team logos on equipment boxes in the pits,  and contingency stickers on the cars themselves.

But the Benedetti’s hard-earned success awoke a new breed of competition. During the rise of RaceCals, many drivers simply had friend or family member take care of their marketing efforts.

For example, Dale Earnhardt’s marketing guy Buddy Hank Jones arranged for RaceCals to create five different stickers for the Intimidator. For Harry Gant, his daughter handled things. And with Ricky Rudd, it was his wife.

Other drivers had their sponsors make arrangements with RaceCals. Coors for Bill Elliott, Roush for Mark Martin, and Penske for Rusty Wallace.

The more that larger sponsors got involved, the more hoops Andy had to jump through to produce a sticker that could be approved by the corporate bureaucracy. It was getting to where each company wanted to run the souvenir market themselves, and soon gave rise to such mega-marketing companies as Action and RCR.

While RaceCals’ driver souvenir business remained steady for the time being, Andy began replacing it with other products.

In 1994, Andy and Karen were asked to have RaceCals produce the official sticker for the 1995 Daytona 500.

NASCAR remains a very large client for the Benedettis, who contract to do several projects from series stickers to trailer decals each season. Some of the designs are already prepared and others call on Andy’s talents to improve on-or create from scratch-ideas based on a track or team logo. He’s been asked to create some “Wow!”-types of designs.

During the past decades, the Benedettis have produced thousands of different designs.

“They’re all challenging,” Andy says looking around the shop walls that double as growing portfolio. You want to put a lot into it-make every design something special.”

Andy and Karen note that RaceCals is as much about the average weekly racer and short track as it is about racing’s bigger names.

“Small orders, big orders,” Andy explains. “For every Daytona, there’s 100 other designs. We would put as much into Ron Eaton’s stickers as we did for Dale Earnhardt’s.”

For example, Andy talks of creating Tobey Butler’s stickers whenButlerwas here in the Northwest, and continued through his Craftsman Truck Series career.

One of Andy’s favorite projects was a T-shirt design heralding Jeff Jefferson’s Northwest Series championship. Karen is proud of the 125,000 American Flag stickers RaceCals printed. She also recalls a 90,000-sticker run for NASCAR’s weekly racing series, which had the Benedettis shipping 1,000 stickers to each track across the country.

“Wherever we go in the country, we see our work,” Andy and Karen both note. “On the freeway inL.A.or inFlorida.”

As Joe and crew travel on the racing circuit, he often sees race coolers with stickers that they had produced more than a decade earlier, just an example of how RaceCals has become part of the “race fan” experience.

The lasting success of RaceCals is built on a foundation of quality.

“I am proud of the reputation we’ve built doing the nicest work,” Joe says. “It’s an exciting business and we try to do an excellent job.”

“It’s nice to give the fans something they can remember, display and be proud of,” Andy adds. “Or give them a laugh with stuff like: ‘My Money and My Honey are at the Race Track.’”

And the “Feature Winner” stickers are always a hot item. Karen says people really kick and scream when a track runs out of the little two-inch stickers.

“I get buried in the work,” Andy confesses. “But when I look around and see what we’ve done, I’m proud of that.”

At the latest RPM workshop inRenothis past December, Andy and Karen were presented with RPM’s Workshop Achievement recognition.

“The awards are to recognize people who do a lot for the sport,” says RPM editor Stewart Doty, adding thatRenowas the preferred workshop to make the presentation. “We wanted to do it in front of their home crowd.”

“We don’t do that very often,” Reamer said to reinforce the prestige of the recognition, usually reserved for track facilities, being awarded to a commercial business. “Every now and then we pick the ones that have been consistent. It was probably long overdue.”

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