Painting Your Race Car or
how to trap a zillion bugs in clear coat
By Danny Mitchell sr.
I purchased my car over the Internet, via Ebay and my wallet has
been empty ever since.
It was one car parts magazine after another with the goal of
fixing this car to run competitively against all the others out
there. My wife and I often laugh about how we own a piece of the
Jegs and Summit Racing drag cars currently running in the NHRA
circuit and how when they win, it's like we do too.
Well it all started down hill with the desire to have my car get
that "Its mine feel". Have you ever bought some car or motorcycle
from someone only to have all your buds say "cool you bought Jim's
car"? Its always gonna be Jim's car ... so you start searching for
ways to make it yours, and yours alone.
Well after a new engine, transmission, ring and pinion gear,
axles, drag slicks and front runners, wheels, exhaust, new
ignition, wiring, fuel cell, lexan windows, disc brakes,
suspension components, seatbelts, window netting, wheelie bars,
and countless hours of sweating putting it all together. You go to
your first big race and low and behold, one of your buds walks up
after the race and says " wow you really got Jim's car running
So now here we are at this point, painting the car.
Maybe looking at some of my mistakes will save those following in
my footsteps, well maybe or maybe not but here goes.
I did a lot of calling and talked to a lot of people before I ever
tackled this project, (which was a step from the norm to begin
with) and for every three people I talked to, I got three
different ways to go about it. Now I didn't just ask the ordinary
man on the street, I asked only people who had some experience
painting cars, trucks or motorcycles. Finally I got the best
advice from the last place I went to, the paint store where I was
buying the paint.
Lets face it that's their business, they want you to do a good
job, selling paint is what they do, and the better your car looks
the better they look.
The things that influenced me in deciding to paint my own car were
the costs and the blame factors.
Now the cost is easy enough to understand so I wont go into that
one, but the blame factor needs a little bit of explanation...
Let me explain... If you take your car to a local painter and the
paint isn't what you expected, Your forever mad and upset each
time you so much as you look at the car. And You can be assured in
the fact that if the paint is crappy, someone, (usually one of
your buds will tell you about it.) buds are good for that, always
ready to give that bit of needed advise on how you went wrong
after the fact.
On the other hand if your paint job is great then they all want to
know how much you had to pay the local painter to do it. (And once
more, your buds will be right on top of things to critique and
tell you how badly you overpaid for that paint job.) And how you
need to use "old so and so", the next time you need to paint a
So.. I figured I would beat them to the punch knowing that I will
receive criticism no matter what I do and paint it myself. I
worked up the following replies to comeback with no matter what.
If the paint is bad, "it's the first ______ I ever painted" if its
good "it's the first _________ I ever painted and I know I will
improve" with time... I like this one as it leaves em wondering..
The first thing the paint supplier will do is ask you a few simple
questions. Things like "What are you painting"? "Have you ever
painted a car before"? Then "what did you do to prep your car for
paint"? "Will you be doing any bodywork"? If so, "are you painting
over new metal, rusty areas, bondo, or fiberglass"? " What tools
do you have for painting the car"? "Where are you going to paint
the car"? "What paint are you going to use"? "What colors are you
going to use"? All of these questions need to be answered, it's
not as easy as going to the local parts store and purchasing a can
of Chevrolet orange engine enamel.
Now if you want a decent paint job, One thing you must do is give
as much information you can to the paint supplier you choose, so
you can get the best chance at a great paint job. When a paint job
looks good everyone is happy but when it looks bad everyone wants
to know what happened and where you got the paint. Believe me,
there's not a paint supplier out there that wants you to have a
bad paint job, so ask all the questions that you can, at the store
you buy your paint, I'm sure they will be glad to help.
Now I'm no stranger to bondo and I have used canned primer to
touch-up small spots that were rusted out on many occasion's.
Growing up in Indiana made me accustomed to seeing rust spots now
and then, so I know that you must get the rust out before you
apply something over the top. There are several good products out
there that will even convert the light rust you just can't get
out, to a good usable primer.
Now one of the biggest mistakes I made was to ask all my buds how
to proceed with the paint job.
The only thing worse than not asking any questions is to ask the
wrong people for the answers. Because believe me you will get all
the answers you never wanted and more criticism after the job is
One more thing I found out is how wonderful my buds were at being
willing to help me prep and paint the car "after" it was done.
Everyone I talked to offered those immortal words of wisdom you
love to hear, "I didn't know you needed help, I wasn't doing
anything I would have helped you with it". Yeah right.
Why is it that everyone offers his or her help after the work is
done? It's like when you finally buy that special item you were
looking for, someone always says. "Gee' I just gave one of those
away". Doesn't matter what it is you want or need, I will bet a
cold six pack that one of your buds gave it away two days before
you bought yours... tell me I'm wrong... but that's another
Number one... Set your sights and your wallet on what type and
grade of paint job you want. Different paints have different
grades, different prices, different mixing instructions as well as
application methods. For example: one color? Two tone? Stripes?
Designs? Finishes? (Flat, satin, semi-gloss, glossy, high gloss)
Base coat/clear coat? Enamel? Water base? All of these things must
be taken into account. Each and every choice has its own drawbacks
and trust me that old adage "you get what you pay for" will come
back to haunt you faster when painting, than anything else in the
Number two... Preparation is 90% of a good paint job. If you paint
over rust, dirt, grease, wax, oil, soap, dents, dings, etc, then
that's what you will have trapped under the paint ...till that
paint flakes off two months later.
Number three... no matter how hard you look you will find dirt,
scratches, dings and dents that you missed when prepping the body
to paint after you prime the car, I know I did.... However keep in
mind that a hooker header sticker over a dent or scratch on a
racecar is not as noticeable as it would be on the family sedan...
Number four.... Use good equipment to apply your paint. Paint guns
come in all shapes and sizes, and prices for a reason. I will bet
that you won't find a $19.95 paint gun lying around your local
painter's shop unless it's on the wall as a joke. Take a good look
at your local hardware store at their paintbrushes. You will find
enough different sizes, shapes, handles, bristle configurations,
types and styles to boggle the mind. So what makes you think spray
painting will be any different. With spray guns there are HVLP
(high volume low pressure), and then there are the other types...
that I wont even mention here because of all the combinations of
sprayers there are on the market. Note: again talk to your paint
supplier about application methods.
Number five... Do you have a good air supply system to spray the
paint from the gun? Not just any old air supply will do. You must
have a good volume of clean, dry air. The least little amount of
moisture, dirt, oil, etc, can ruin several days of hard work in a
matter of seconds when painting your car. Remember your paint gun
will use a lot of air while painting and you must have an
adequately sized compressor with a properly sized filter separator
in the airline. A good air dryer can be placed inline with your
paint gun to trap any normal amount of moisture that your air
compressor might spit out. This is usually placed in the airline
just below the paint gun and will trap those last droplets of
moisture before they get into the paint.
Number six... what is the weather going to do on the day you are
painting your car? The more moisture in the air the more your
filters and dryers have to take out. The temperature of the air on
the day you are painting makes a big difference too. All of these
things will determine how much hardener you will need to mix with
the paint for proper drying time. Note: tell your paint supplier
when your going to paint your car so they can help you with all of
the maze of additives that you might want to mix into the paint.
From almost everyone I talked to they each had their own
favorites. Fish-eye preventer, degreaser's, de-waxer's, special
soap's, flat finish, satin finish, glossier finish, you name it
its probably out there. Just remember the most important thing of
all (how much all your buddies are gonna laugh when you mess up if
you don't - ASK YOUR PAINT SUPPLIER).
Number seven... If you have spent the twenty thousand or more for
a paint booth, then your wasting your time reading this cause its
your business to know what to do and how to do it and are probably
just laughing yourself silly at all the stuff I have left out. But
if you're like me and your paint booth has a grass and dirt floor
and a sunny blue-sky roof then keep reading.
I was advised to wet down the area around where I was going to
paint my car to keep the dust and dirt down so I did, heck I even
mowed the grass before I painted the car, just to be on the safe
side. Didn't want to give them grasshoppers too much of a leg up
on making it to the paint, if you know what I mean. Well let me
tell you, grass dries and grasshoppers fly, just as I started
spraying the primer on it looked like the dust storm from the
movie Sahara what with all the stuff that went flying when I
pulled the trigger on that spray gun.
Several hours of picking out grass bits and bugs and a six pack
later I was ready to try it again. Only this time I had shoved the
car part way into my garage and was positive I had this dog in his
place. Which reminds me of something else I forgot to tell you.
Don't whistle while you work if you don't have your dogs penned
up, spotted hounds I have heard of but now I've got a spotted
German shepherd and a shedding car. Couple more beers and lots of
sandpaper later, I started again. The sun was going down faster
than a flat tire in rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon. So
throwing caution to the wind (which happens a lot around here
after several beers) I began painting again. This time it seemed
to go a whole lot better and I began to get that wonderful feeling
you get when all is going your way and you don't have a care in
the world. Which is about the time my wife got home and wanted to
know why I was painting the lawn mower and began to complain that
I appeared to be stoned. Note: it's advisable to get yourself a
good filter mask when spray painting your car. My paint supplier
had recommended a good one but being the man I am and after all I
was painting it outdoors, I declined. With the beer bottles piling
up and the throbbing headache I now had, I elected to shut the
garage door and start fresh on Sunday morning. I hit the switch on
the door opener and then was thankful that I still had some bondo
left to fix the dent in the roof of my car. Note: to self, move
car, before shutting garage door. That being said when my wife's
laughter finally died down I went to sleep. As I opened the garage
door and squinted at all that sun the next day, I thought about
asking my wife to pick me up a good filter mask on her way back
from church, but that vision of her snorting as she laughs made me
think better of it. She had already gone to church with a smile
and even took a parting shot at me with "I'll say a little prayer
for you" grinning all the way as she pulled out the drive. I
didn't want her to know it, but at this point I needed all the
help I could get. Once she was out of sight I went to the local
parts house and picked up the filter mask I needed and said to
myself "with good weather this was gonna be the day to paint". I
watered down the garage floor and the outside to keep the dust
down and penned the dogs up and began mixing paint. With paint gun
in hand I began to prime all the spots I had missed the night
before. The one good thing I had done previously was to mask off
all the parts of the car I couldn't remove like my paint supplier
had recommended. The paint was going on smooth and I began to feel
pretty good about the whole thing. My buddy Bufford had just
recently painted his son's car and had used this fish-eye
preventer and degreaser but failed to read the directions. Being
the good friend I am I try to point out his short falls when ever
I get the chance so I was sure to read all of the instructions and
warnings this time, save I have the same type of paint job on my
car. (His paint job is what I like to call a thirty footer, looks
good from thirty feet but any closer and it looks like it was done
with a paint ball gun.)
Obstacles encountered and conquered I got brave and decided to do
a little extra and add some stripes. The base coat was done in
white and before I put on the clear coat I could do a few stripes
and like the French say "Walla" it'll be unique and done. Luckily
I had stocked up on the Coors light on Friday or the stripes might
not have happened. Now one thing to keep in mind is that when your
painting stripes, be sure to get the tape down flat or you will
have some funny looking flare patterns show up. And one more thing
I learned, you can wet sand any over-spray just do it lightly. And
never, no never, use paint thinner to remove over-spray from
freshly painted surfaces. (I don't care how many times your
buddies encourage you to do it.)
Another thing, Just keep in mind, garage or barn or wherever you
are painting, fact is unless it's a total vacuum there will be
moisture, dirt, hair, bugs, and all manners of contaminants flying
around just waiting to land on that fresh paint.
For my own benefit I removed the hood and the trunk and sat up
some saw horses to paint them on it seemed like a good idea till I
had to flip them over. That's about the time the wife showed up to
point this out to me. Don't know what I would do without that
woman. .. Sorry... Can't go there ...
I took a long pipe and suspended it up on the ceiling of my garage
and then used some welding rods to make hooks to hold my trunk and
hood while I painted them. This worked out great. I removed the
striping tape completely and after I wet-sanded the overspray and
popped the top on a couple more cold ones, before I started the
last phase of this base coat, clear coat paint job.
The clear coat was the trickiest that's for sure, I had more than
one run that I had to let dry and sand-out before re-spraying. The
spray needs to be wet, if your guns not set right it will look dry
and dull. Too much and it will run. You just have to get a balance
and that takes experience and time to attain. If your lucky the
bugs wont think that the smell is some new sort of female bug in
heat and will leave your paint covered with so many bugs that you
swear one more and the car could fly off at any moment. Your car
doesn't have to be a Jurassic Park event with bugs trapped in the
clear coat. But, just resign yourself to the fact that there will
be flaws, and like I said before there are a thousand different
sizes and shapes of stickers out there just find the right one for
your car.... Oh' and one final note... Get yourself a good set of
tweezers to pick out the bugs.
All in all, for a first time paint job I don't think it turned out
too bad. While I don't have people knocking on my door to paint
their cars. It still looks pretty good, a for sure fifteen-footer,
why it may even be a ten-footer with two or three beers.
By Danny Mitchell sr.