In 1994 future Indy 500 Champion Eddie Cheever was headed for a full-ride season with an exciting new sponsor. But before the green flag could fall, all the wheels came off.
For a branding designer and die-hard motorsports fan, the chance to create a complete Indycar sponsorship program from scratch was the project of a lifetime. That’s the golden opportunity my partners and I eagerly grabbed for our Phoenix-based design studio during the winter and spring of 1993-94. A close friend/designer/boss/client (he had been all of those at one time or another) came to us with a proposal – create a motorsports brand campaign for a new company based around international racecar driver Eddie Cheever and a full season of Indycar racing. After I pinched myself a few times we threw ourselves full throttle into the project.
This new company was a multi-level marketing entity called Neogen. They were offering a full line of health and nutrition products that promised future financial success for potential sales associates. And when the substantial budget we proposed was met with an influx of steady income, everything seemed headed for the winner’s circle.
In addition to a huge effort by our entire staff of talented designers and project managers to create promotional materials and product packaging, we conceived a motorsports branding activation program that centered around the Indycar sponsorship. This included the crown jewel of motorsports, the Indianapolis 500.
We’d done something similar the previous year for the same ownership group, but under a different company that marketed personal and automotive security devices, so we had a decent track record to go by. And because the driver was American ex-Formula One and international sports car ace Eddie Cheever, we set out to create a brand campaign that combined his well-known helmet design with the Neogen brand identity.
Although he grew up in Italy and raced in Europe for most of his career, Cheever was born in Phoenix, Arizona. Coincidentally, where our studio was located. His helmet design was derived from the Arizona flag so our approach carried with it a touch of the symbiotic.
The basic motorsports campaign was named Team Neogen Racing and would be run under the banner of Turley Motorsports, who would have a fairly short-lived Indycar tenure. The branding system was anchored by the Team Neogen Racing logo which featured a vibrant (if somewhat trendy) purple, black and turquoise color scheme. The logo system was bookended by a customized Eddie Cheever logo and a modified Neogen company logo.
At this point, the real fun began. We applied the design system to everything from apparel (t-shirts, polo shirts and caps) to custom-colored coolers to be filled with the Neogen sports drink, to Cheever’s fireproof overalls.
Once the prototypes and first production samples for all these elements were created, we were ready to apply the design to his sleek Indycar itself.
As it turns out, the highlight of the project was a full-blown location photo shoot by friend and world renown photographer Rodney Rascona who spent a full day with us out on an unused stretch of aircraft tarmac complete with water truck and scaffold. Cheever, donning the freshly crafted firesuit and his iconic helmet, was a pleasant and helpful real-life model and Rascona used his photographic magic touch to create a series of compelling and campaign-ready images. It was high-fives and thumbs-up all around.
The excitement was at a fever pitch (at least for me anyway) when we started hearing rumblings that weren’t coming from the car’s powerful V-8 racing engine. They were coming from the client, who hinted about problems within the new company. Problems that ultimately doomed not only the racing sponsorship but ultimately Neogen itself. We never knew the whole story, but luckily we had been compensated for our work by the time the wheels fell off.
In the blink of an eye, Cheever went from full-ride sponsorship to looking for a drive. But it didn’t take long before he secured a ride, first for Team Menard and then for legendary four-time Indianapolis 500 champion and occasionally cantankerous team owner A.J Foyt. And aside from designing a pro-bono sponsorship brochure for the Foyt team, my Indycar design career had rolled to a stop.
As for Eddie, he went on to accomplish his ultimate goal by winning the 1998 Indy 500 as a driver and team owner. In a sport that can bite you both literally and financially, he proved to be an Over A-Cheever in the end.
And although the Neogen Indycar never turned a wheel at speed, I can still see it screaming down the front straightaway at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway under the waving checkered flags. A guy can dream, can’t he?
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