By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
In case of life imitating art, a simple, ‘what if’ fantasy paint scheme on iRacing turned into a real-life six-race sponsorship from TikTok for Ryan Vargas.
From Fantasy to Reality
About two months ago, Ryan Pistana created a fictional No. 15 TikTok Chevrolet Camaro SS on iRacing. Fictional ‘what if’ paint schemes on the sim racing service and Trading Paints are nothing new. However, the TikTok emblazoned car caught the attention of executives at both NASCAR and the social media company.
“What it all kind of stemmed from was my buddy, Ryan Pistana put out an amazing, render, kind of like a ‘what if’ idea,” recalled Vargas. “At the end of the day, nobody expected something like this to happen. When he put that first one out, it kind of got a little bit of traction. It just so happened that the folks at TikTok and NASCAR got together and, reached out to me. TikTok was able to talk with me and we talked a little about doing just one race and see where that went.”
Pistana currently has 22 paint schemes available for use on Trading Paints. Some are replications of real-world counterparts while others are fictional schemes like the original TikTok idea. The fantasy-to-reality story of Vargas’ TikTok sponsorship is one of the first to jump from the realm of iRacing to the real-world NASCAR Xfinity Series.
“It’s incredible,” admitted Vargas. “Ryan (Pistana) is very integral part of this whole thing as well. He’s very heavily involved in all the design processes. He’s been working hands-on with Emily Butler over at TMG designs. They’re doing a lot of the merch, the hats, as well as the social graphics and so on and so forth. So, they’ve all been very, very helpful. Ryan is very excited to see this car on the track.”
That one-race deal with TikTok slowly grew to be much more than that. Vargas, who is a NASCAR Next alumnus, has been competing part-time for JD Motorsports since 2019. When he’s not racing, he’s been working as part of the road crew on the team’s No. 0 Chevrolet Camaro SS.
“It sounded like they were impressed, and they just really wanted to keep doing something,” explained Vargas. “So, it blossomed from one race to the rest of the season. I really, honestly, couldn’t be more thankful and, just really, really excited to be able to do that, especially here at JD Motorsports. They can always benefit from being able to put one of their cars on the front cover of Forbes, on their website. I think that means a lot.”
The six-race sponsorship from TikTok marks the first time since 2018 that Vargas has competed in back-to-back weeks. It also makes the 2020 Xfinity Series season the most active for the 20-year-old driver. To date, Vargas’ best finish is a 13th at Pocono Raceway. However, he has turned heads in several starts, running inside the top-10 and top-15 often.
The TikTok colors will debut on the No. 6 Chevrolet Camaro SS at Talladega Superspeedway in the Ag-Pro 300 on Saturday, October 3. The company will then sponsor Vargas at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Kansas Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, and Phoenix Raceway. The up-and-coming driver has one previous Xfinity start at both Kansas and Phoenix.
As to whether Vargas’ six-race sponsorship with TikTok could turn into something more in 2021, the La Mirada, Calif. native is unsure.
“It’s kind of just, as we go, I don’t know. We still haven’t really talked a little bit about that. I love being able to continue to represent the TikTok colors on track. It’ll be a really big deal, just to have it for these few races. Even if this doesn’t continue into next year, this is already setting me up for a much lengthier stay in the sport. Being able to tie myself to such a large, large company already, just turning 20, it definitely adds some stock to my name.”
The TikTok sponsorship is just the latest in a string of companies oriented to a younger generation to enter NASCAR. Beats by Dre, Cash App, Columbia Sportswear, DoorDash, and Urban Outfitters have all partnered with Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace in recent months.
As NASCAR strives to be more inclusive, companies like Cash App, DoorDash, TikTok, and others have found motorsports an attractive marketing landscape. Vargas explained that companies like TikTok are possibly the next frontier of sponsorship in the sport.
“I think that’s definitely the future of the sport. I know I’m the first driver that TikTok has sponsored, I don’t know if I’m the first athlete. It definitely goes to show the value within racing and the value of motorsports sponsorship, it’s just how you bring it to them. It really does mean a lot that, TikTok as big as they are, are trusting me. They believe in me and they want to see me do good.”
TikTok is the first major company to sponsor Vargas. In the past he’s represented Cranio Care Bears, Flex Seal, the NASCAR Technical Institute, and Universal Technical Institute. Taking on the responsibility of representing a large company like TikTok is not lost on Vargas.
“I say it time and time again, they’ve been very transparent with me on everything,” explained Vargas. “They’ve been very helpful throughout this process, especially since this is my first real big sponsorship. I’ve had small ones here and there, but this is the first real sponsorship where we’re going out there and we have a company to represent. I’m definitely excited to hit the track, to get to Talladega, and hopefully put the TikTok car up front.”
JD Motorsports in 2020
So far in the 2020 Xfinity Series season, JD Motorsports has two top-10 finishes, both with Jesse Little. One of those top-10s came at Talladega’s sister track, Daytona International Speedway.
Vargas is one of five drivers that have driven the No. 6 Chevrolet this season. He first drove the No. 6 at Darlington Raceway where he honored Seven-time Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson during NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend.
Photo by NKP / NKP Photo