Kyle Sykes has never driven a lap in a Trackhouse Racing car. He has never changed a racing tire or tuned an engine.
But Sykes, in a very large way, is one of the most visible of Trackhouse’s employees. His work is seen by millions of race fans every week, and it travels along at speeds nearing 200 miles per hour.
Sykes, 30, is Trackhouse Racing's creative director. He lives in a digital universe, wielding a computer mouse and a keyboard to create the paint-scheme designs that adorn Trackhouse’s race cars and other graphics used on team and driver uniforms, pit boxes and the team transporters.
Trackhouse’s sponsor partners make investments in the cars the team puts on the track, and it’s Sykes’ responsibility to come up with solid, eye-catching paint-scheme designs that carry the message partners want to convey to millions of fans on television and in the grandstands.
“This is something we work really hard on,” Sykes said. “Our partners are the reason why we can do this every week. We put everything into how these cars look. We take pride in how different our cars look, and the partners we work with trust our vision.”
Although part of each car’s design is necessarily in line with the sponsor’s name and logos, Sykes is given considerable freedom to enhance the car with a design that both showcases the partner and gives fans a dazzling mobile “canvas” to watch.
Sykes said team owner Justin Marks and Trackhouse president Ty Norris give him freedom to be creative in coming up with car designs that ignite the relationship between sponsor, driver, team and fan.
“They don’t put me in a box,” he said. “They are advocates for being creative and different. I have free rein to do what I like, and if we need to later on in the process, we can pull back the reins a little. It all stems from the leadership in the company. They want things to be different, and it’s a creative person’s dream job.”
Sykes’ “canvas” includes both sides of the car, the hood, the deck lid, the roof and the car’s rear section. The two side panels are easily the biggest sections and carry much of the theme of the design, along, obviously, with the car number.
“I look at a race car as a kind of big art canvas,” Sykes said. “With every paint scheme I do, I start with the side design because that’s the largest area on which to place art and logos and branding. Then I find a way to make sure the car is all one solid piece of art. It’s a challenge, but that’s why I like to do it.
“It’s a challenge to make the brand stand out and to make the brand look unique from all the other cars on the track. We want to make sure the race fan in the seats knows it’s the Advent Health car, for example. We want to create a recognizable look for the partners that will resonate with the fans.
“The design ultimately is printed as a vinyl wrap in six rectangular pieces. They’re applied to the car like a giant sticker. It’s a challenge to make all that seamless and blend together. The car kind of comes together like puzzle pieces so that it looks like a cohesive piece of art.”
Trackhouse racecar design starts either from discussions with a partner already on board with the team or from a “pitch” team representatives present to a potential sponsor. When Trackhouse is in pursuit of a particular partner, Sykes submits car designs using the sponsor’s logos and colors in order to make the process smoother and the potential sponsor happy.
“We want to be able to present them with a design with their brand on it,” Sykes said. “More times than not, when a brand sees their logos and all the elements that represent their brand on a race car, it becomes real and something they want to be a part of. I pour a lot of pride into how our racecars look whether they never see the light of day or they become the ones you see every week.
“My goal is to not have a potential partner say no. I want to create something so cool and on brand for them that they say, ‘You nailed it. You sold us with the visuals of the car and the creative look of it.’ ”
From the day that Sykes begins work on a car design until the car is wrapped with the “paint scheme” is a process that typically takes weeks. If a sponsor has a special design in mind for a race that is months away, Sykes said he might begin work on that project much earlier.
He said design work on a paint scheme for the July 1-2 Chicago Street Course weekend, one of the season’s spotlighted events, began in early April. “We want to get way out front as far as getting the approvals from the partners and NASCAR,” he said. “We want to be at least two and one-half weeks ahead of the printing process because the cars should be wrapped and ready to go the week of a race, if not a week and one-half before the race.”
Sykes’ biggest “work space” is provided by the huge haulers that transport Trackhouse’s cars and race equipment from shop to track and back.
“That’s the biggest canvas you can think of,” he said. “We’re so proud of those haulers because they represent our brand perfectly. Obviously, they travel all over the country and get millions of eyes. So you want something that will pop and make people do a double-take. You want to get the brand out there in a way that people will say, ‘That’s awesome. I’ve got to check out what Trackhouse is.’ They turn heads when people see them.”
Perhaps not surprisingly in these days of remote work, Sykes does not tinker with his car designs in the Trackhouse shop in Concord, North Carolina. He works 850 miles away in a home studio in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He holds a graphic communications degree from Carroll University in Waukesha.
One of the first employees Marks and Norris hired when Trackhouse began operations, Sykes said he visits the shop periodically to meet with other team members and to keep up with the latest plans bouncing around the building. He also attends races occasionally.
“It was evident very early that we needed an in-house graphic designer to match the unique vision of Trackhouse. I didn’t want to grab someone from the industry, so I contacted a friend in Las Vegas who is working in the music industry," Ty Norris said. "He was the first person to give me Kyle Syke’s name. I looked up his work and immediately knew he was our guy. You add his talent, his work ethic and his positive personality and the result is a rock star Trackhouse employee."
In his studio, Sykes uses the Adobe Illustrator program to create designs. He eventually sees his creations at the shop, at the track or on television – at speed.
“It’s rewarding to see an idea come to life and see it on track on TV or in person when I’m at the track,” he said.