It’s all about the dye…

Written by J.K. Kelly on August 26th, 2019


Once I landed my second, “job of a lifetime,” back in the late ’70s as the PR Director for Darrell Waltrip and the Gatorade 88 NASCAR Team I was able to introduce Steve Burns and Fred Morrison from VP to Robert Yates and the rest of the crew in Charlotte. This was way back in time, where Steve and Fred were driving VP’s lone tractor trailer across the country making drum deliveries and visiting engine shops. For anyone who has seen VP’s fleet that exists today, rolling into Daytona to service IMSA’s Rolex 24 Hour race, Bonneville, Indy, or NHRA tracks and other venues across North America, this was truly “back in the day.”

Some racers back then were superstitious, especially when it came to color. I actually encountered a few who wouldn’t use one of VP’s products because it was green. Green anywhere other than as the color of the go-go-go flag, or the money you’d win, was supposed to be bad luck. Here’s something you should know before going any further. For the most part, all race fuels are clear in color when they are blended. Petroleum dye colors are added to identify and differentiate each product. It’s pretty easy to do. A ten thousand gallon batch of fuel might only need a cupful of dye to bring it to spec. So what’s the big deal about color? Remember the Union 76 race fuel for NASCAR? It was dyed a distinctive orange-red. Once the DiGard engine builders got to see how much power VP made over Union 76, the next question was, how do we make it look the same and then how do we get it in the car for a race without getting caught? It was simple. Dye it! Back in grade school did you ever wonder, “Why the heck do I need to know this?” Well, knowing how colors mixed to yield another, and which ones wouldn’t, definitely came in handy later in life. Making fuels look alike to the naked eye was pretty easy.

Years later, in what was truly an adventure and rarely a “job”, as a Regional Manager at VP Racing Fuels, dye came up again.

Dealing with customers, especially the rare one who felt he might have bought bad fuel was always interesting. I have mentioned before though, I always found humor was a good way to deflect tension and get people breathing again. One time this racer said he had some green C12 that didn’t make it through tech. We were closing up for the day and his sample was way on the other side of the track. I asked him if he would bring it by in the morning and we’d run a few tests on it.

That night, in addition to picking up more beer and munchies at a local grocery store, I picked up one of those little boxes of food dyes. The next morning I put some water in a brand new white plastic jug cap and dropped a bit of green food dye in to make it resemble the emerald green of C12. Eventually the customer came by and I invited him into the nose of the trailer where I had set up my hydrometer kit, dielectric meter and a few other gizmos to make things look like we knew what we were doing. Actually, we did know how to check fuel in the field and would, once we had some fun with this guy. With everything going on I managed to pour his sample into another new white jug cap and then pulled a switch. As an aside, jug caps used to be white plastic until someone at VP realized sunlight could get through to the fuel and damage it so eventually we made the switch to black. White jugs are the easiest to see through to check fuel levels but just like you can see through it so can the ultraviolet rays. Left out in the sunlight, the lead or other chemicals in race fuels can be knocked out of suspension by the rays and render the gas useless. I picked up the green water sample I had made and smelled it for a few seconds as if I was checking a fine wine. As the customer and my truck driver watched intently I then took a big swig of it. My driver turned away and went back to work so his laughter wouldn’t give it all away. I swished it around and down it went. “Yep, that’s C12.” I offered him a sip and he looked at me like I was crazy.

Then I showed him the food dye, offered him a donut, and went about testing the sample he had brought me. It was off . We determined that one of his crew guys had used the same fuel jug to get pump gas for their generator and once good clean race fuel was put into the jug the good fuel became tainted with gasoline residue. Case closed. By the way, food dye can be fun for the whole family, just ask my kids. They grew up on my Saturday morning breakfasts of green French toast, blue scrambled eggs, red milk, and so on.

For anyone who remembers the VP calendar poster I did with model Rali Ivanova a few years back, I’ll leave you to wonder what I used in that lab beaker.  Here are a few reviews of FUELIN’ AROUND from some people you might recognize.

“I stayed up all night and read it from cover to cover. I couldn’t put it down.” Mike Christopher, NASCAR Modified Driver

“The book is great!” Bruce Larson, NHRA Funny Car Champion & Hall of Fame Driver

“A page-turner you’re going to attempt to read in one shot and if not, it’s going to keep you coming back.” – John DiBartolomeo, Drag Racing Edge Magazine.

FUELIN’ AROUND is a story of the American Dream of success, courtesy of hard work and dedication. I read the entire book in two sittings. Fascinating and enjoyable stories, I laughed out loud more than once.” – Andy “Tog” Rogers, News Editor, Eurodragster.com

“FUELIN’ AROUND is a must read if you are into racing, fast cars, or the concept of an entrepreneurial, whatever it takes workplace. The insight into the motorsports industry is worth the price of admission alone. But the peek inside, at the growing pains and corporate nuances of VP Racing Fuels, adds the spice to this great read. For book lovers and those who rarely pick one up, FUELIN’ AROUND is hard to put down.” Bob Merz, former Vice President, Advertising & Promotions, Pennzoil Products Company.

For more of Fuelin’ Around you can order a paperback or Kindle by clicking here.

Cheers! JK

"A truly riveting read from cover to cover." - Midwest Book Review

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