COLOR ME FAST - Derby Tech - May, 1984

by Tony Carlini, Sr.


Before beginning my article, I would like to take this opportunity to than all the concerned people who wrote to Tony and myself with their supportive thoughts and comments. Tony, however chooses not to participate in derby events indefinitely. He is now quite active in Go Kart racing. I am extremely proud of my son by the way he conducted himself with the officials, inspectors spectators, and competitors, even while attending night court. His driving was not affected by anything, and every run down th hill whether it be straight, fade, or swerve, was predetermined, an executed perfectly. Driving is a very important ingredient in becoming national champion.

For those of you who don't know "Tee Jay" (Tony's nickname), he is the boy from California, who won the 1983 Junior Division World Championships in both the All American Soap Box Derby and the NDR, Gravity Drags. It is th first time that both of these titles were won in the same year. Others have won both of these titles in the Senior Division, but not in the same year.

Editors Note: A soap box derby racer will run comparatively faster if it is color coordinated properly. Over 76% of all responses to last month' questionnaire thought that color makes a speed difference. It does, Pau Gale's response touched on the physical and Psychological aspects tha color has on speed. These two areas are important and deserve to be expanded upon - - - - - -ED.


The color that provides the least skin friction drag is black. Black also helps prevent separation of the laminar boundary layer.

The aerodynamic book "Theory of Wing Sections", page 109, written by Ira H. Abbott and Albert E. Von Doenhoff, explains that skin friction for an object (soap box racer) that absorbs no heat from the free stream is, lets say 1.330. The skin friction for a soap box that is 1/4 the absolute temperature of the free stream is 1.420 at 50 miles per hour. This means that the laminar skin friction increases with heat transfer from the fluid (surrounding air) to the surface of the racer. This increase is small even for the extremely low racer temperatures. This means that the surface temperature of the racer should be as hot as possible. The color of the racer should be one that absorbs as much heat as possible from the sun. This color is black!

Another aerodynamics book, "Boundary Layer Theory', written by Dr. Hermann Schlichting, page 467, explains how heat transfer to and from the surface wall (surface of racer) affects the transition of the laminar boundary layer to a turbulent boundary layer, causing more aerodynamic drag. heat transfer from the surface to the fluid (air) at VERY HIGH SPEEDS (Mach 2 and above) has a destabilizing effect on laminar boundary layer flow, but at low speeds the reverse is true. Therefore' a racer going 30 miles per hour with a hot surface (compared to the ambient air temperature) will have a more stabilizing effect on the boundary layer, thereby causing less air drag, and a faster racer. Again black is the best color.

"In 1949, Fred Derks, of Akron, figured it all out with a complicated system of calculating heat, pressure, and resistance. He raced a black car and won handily". (Popular Science, May 1952).

A word of caution at this point is necessary because color selection aione is not enough to make you win, but it helps.

There are some myths relating to color that I want to dispel. The following theories may sound logical, but they just don't work.

1. The black car transfers heat to the inside of your racer and causes resiliency loss in the epoxies, resins, and fiberglass. - The temperatures required to initiate their softening is in the area of 145* F. and up. These temperatures are never reached inside a racer.

2. The front half of the racer should be white, and the back half black. The white being cooler than the ambient temperature of the air, contracts the air, pulling the racer into this partial vacuum, and the rear being hot, expands the air causing a pressure rise, in the rear of the racer propelling it forward. - This sounds great, but it does not work on hill tests, wind tunnels, or anywhere.

3. A black car heats up the air around it, which causes it to thin, making it easier to penetrate. - Black is not better for this reason.

4. A white racer is better because it will reflect the heat to the wheels and axles causing the racer to run faster. - Wheels and axles do run faster hot, but a white racer does not radiate enough heat to achieve these results.

There are truths to the following that not only sound logical, but they actually work.

1. A black racer and black axle trees, or any color racer with black axle trees will get hot by building up heat from the sun, and radiate this heat to the wheels and axles, thereby increasing the racers speed. I have tested these and I know that the temperature of the wheels and axles are slightly higher, which makes them slightly faster.

2. The inside of your racer should be warm. The heat adds resiliency to all component parts and causes them to use less energy during deflection.

3. A black nose will absorb more light than any other color, giving you an advantage of 3/16 to 3/8 of an inch when racing under the timer swap system, such as Fort Wayne's (ed. NDR nationals site). Other colors reflect light back into the timer eye for an instant longer than will a black nose, thereby increasing the time required to stop the timer. This is the reason you find a black nose on both Tony's winning All American car "Ya Snooze Ya Lose" and his winning NDR car "Flyin Tiger". Although a timer swap was not used at Akron, the car first had to win its local race, which was a timer swap.

4. A white car's nose will show up on Akron's overhead camera better than any other color, which might give you an illusion advantage of 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch.

Now, after I've stated all these facts, you might ask, how much faster physically is a black car over a white one? The answer may surprise you by its smallness - about six inches.


The black car has the physical potential to run the fastest against a clock. But when you run against an opponent, psychologically speaking, you should use a car of a different color scheme. The difference that color coordination makes may also surprise you by its largeness. It, by far, out distances the gains of an all black car.

The goal of color coordinating is to create the feeling of power. This puts you in a positive mental attitude, and your opponert takes on the submissive role. Pick a color that is disturbing to your opponents - not one that is pleasing! You can use color to create stress or make drivers fearful; like the American Indians did with war paint.

The idea here is to create unpleasantness and to arouse your opponent in an anxious unsettled way. The best color to accomplish this with is a pale red, followed by yellow, orange, and black. The most disturbing yellows are highly saturated, but not bright. You also need a little bit of a strange design too, some kind of intricate, disturbing pattern. My son's car "Tony's Flyin Tiger" is a good example of causing stress in the driver of the Tiger's opponent, as was shown at the Fort Wayne Championships. The quality of driving by the opponent is greatly diminished. If you'll think back to the NDR finals at Fort Wayne last year, you'll remember that no one had a good drive against Tonyl Against the top three competitors, one drove off the track, another was wobbling back and forth all the way down. The only top competitor that had a fair drive against Tony was Jeanne Barr.

The Cincinnati Bengals also use a similar type color scheme on their helmets, which creates stress in their opponents.

Other color schemes are dominant, which gives your opponent the feeling he is being dominated, which again causes him to drive poorly. The best colors to use to create the feeling in your opponent is black. Black is the color of power and dominance. It also signifies evil and badness. Black is especially effective when used with charcoal gray. These are the reasons Tony used these colors on his first junior raber. many of you will remember him racing this car at the NDR Championships in Allentown, PA. These colors are effective, but at only about half the value of stress causing colors.

The Los Angeles Raiders, one of the most dominating teams around, use this dominant color scheme in their uniforms. In derby racing competition, the most important colors are those that cause stress. They create confusion and the feeling of being dominated.

The largest drawback when using these color schemes, is that they also affect the inspectors, and officials in the same way.

Of course the most pleasing colors are blue and green, but the most unnoticed color is a cream white. This white has a neutral effect on people, neither pleasant nor stressful. Tony and I knew that his All American car was fast, and had a very good chance to win Tony painted his car white in an attempt to avoid the label as the favorite or 'what inspectors and officials refer to as a "ringer", a term they privately use to describe a very competitive car. A "ringer" is put on the "hoochie coochie" list, for extra curricular examination of possible rule infringements. Tony and I both thought that even though white is not the fastest color, it would be the best color to use in the All American, and hopefully allowing him to spend more time enjoying himself at Derby Camp.

I estimate that Tony's color coordinated scheme was worth an average of about 18 inches in driving results alone.


The aerodynamic experts say black is the best racer color for potential speed. It is. However the proper color coordination can net you an average of a foot and one half, simply due to the confidence factor being translated into driving performance.


Black is also known for its unique "bleeder" effect. I'll give you an example to help you understand this terminology.

If you were to pinstripe a black car with two 1/8" wide stripes that were 1/8" apart, using red for one and blue for the other, you would find that from 25 feet away you would be reading only one color and that color would be purple. The color achieved if you would have mixed the blue and the red paint together. This effect only takes place on a black background. Try the same test on a white car and you would easily be able to detect a red and a blue stripe. When using only a one color line on a black surface the same blurring effect takes place but not instantaneously. The line will not be sharp after the eye has been focusing on it for a while. This is the reason that most of your schools have done away with "blackboards" they are now "greenboards". This particular shade of green used on such boards is the most pleasing color to the human eye. It can be tolerated for great lengths of time with no stress effects.

Greens however, can be extremely stressful when combined with hot pink. If you have ever taken an eye exam for color blindness you were shown a card with green and pink dots and asked if you could detect a number hidden within the dots. It is very difficult for the human eye to draw a crisp, even line between these two colors when they overlap or butt into each other. A well known California restaurant chain had a wallpaper developed for their restaurants using these two colors (lime green and hot pink). Why? - Because they were faced with a quick turnover problem. People taking up a seat or booth for 45 minutes to an hour, and sometimes ordering just coffee. Long lines and turned away business is the result of such activity. Their problem was greatly reduced after installing the wallpaper. It's subconscious effect on these people made them eat, drink, and leave without ever realizing any abnormalities.

The color hot pink by itself is a severe energy drain. It affects the sub-conscious mind in dramatic ways. A person accustomed to doing 100 continuous pushups can only do 75 or 80 on a pink carpet. If you don't think it is true try it! Bright yellow or as some call it "chrome yellow" also has strange characteristics. This is the color Tony used along with black for the Flyin Tiger paint scheme. I used to own a 1932 Ford Coupe when we lived in Michigan that was painted this color. I could never understand why the roof, hood and trunk (all flat areas) would attact bugs such as mosquitos, flys, etc., whenever I parked this vehicle under a street light at night. There would be 50 or more dead bugs laying on these surfaces whenever I would return to my car. The color combined with the ultra violet light attracted the bugs and then attacted their nervous systems until they could no longer tolerate it thus killing them.

Return to the Derby Tech Page