This is a Sparkland Special

Mention something called a “Sparkland Special” back in the 1950s and 1960s at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and fans would’ve gone looking for a new race car. Maybe they would have expected a car builder or sponsor named “Sparkland,” too.

The reason: Seventy-ish years ago—when roadsters were all the rage at the Indy 500—teams celebrated their cars’ builders like they celebrated their drivers. They even publicly attached the builder’s name to the roadster, referring to it as that person’s “special” and highlighting the relationship on the car’s paint scheme. The practice made for some artful-looking race cars, not to mention a joyful way of crediting the sweat equity put into those machines.

Here at Sparkland, we’re proud of our founder’s deep roots in motorsports. So much so that we give it a nod in all of our original projects, referring to each one as “a Sparkland Special” or “SPL” for short.

 As it applies to the work we do, SPL stands for:

  • Story-oriented
  • Purpose-driven
  • Legacy-minded

To learn more about our special mark, check out the Q & A below with Lauren Sparkman, Sparkland’s founder and head of ventures:

Q: How does the abbreviation for special, SPL, relate to Sparkland? 

A: We were looking for a marker of our signature projects, and when we realized the line “a Sparkland Special” would allow us to honor our roots in motorsports, we decided it was perfect for our work in media.

Q. Why is it a key part of the Sparkland brand?

A: It’s beautiful, visually, and the acronym SPL naturally lends itself to an explanation of the values we consider when evaluating projects and partnerships. We are drawn to projects and ventures that are, at their roots, storytelling vehicles whether that involves a book or a building. We are also drawn to creators and founders who are purpose-driven and legacy-minded.

Q. Why is the history associated with SPL a good metaphor for Sparkland’s work?

A: In the 1950s and 60s, race cars referred to as “specials” were often named for the chassis builder who prepared them. A chassis is really the framework that supports everything in the car—from the engine to the driver. 

I think that’s a great metaphor for what we do. Whether we’re working on creating our own projects at Sparkland or helping our partners, we build a solid framework to support and hold the creative process, the resources, and most importantly, the creator. We also try to build our internal support systems to protect our projects–and our inspiration–when they face inevitable threats along the creative journey. On a race track, the chassis protects the most important parts of the car, including the driver.

Q: Is everything happening at Sparkland considered SPL? 

A: Yes it is. Whether it’s an original project or a partner’s work, we’re drawn to ventures that are rooted in story, purpose, and legacy. 

We also approach everything we do with the same careful preparation as racing teams approach their cars. Did you know that in the final days before the Indianapolis 500 teams tirelessly tear down the cars to studs and rebuild them to ensure everything is just right? That’s what we do. We try to build things that matter and things that are going to last. And we take the time to do it right. 

Q: Do you remember how and when you learned about how SPL was used in racing?

A: I don’t remember not knowing. But I spent a lot of time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum as a kid. I love the hand-painted lettering on the cars. They are works of art. 

Q: Are there some “Specials” that stick in your memory or are your favorites?

A: Absolutely! The Johnny Lightning Special driven by Al Unser is the first one that comes to mind. But my favorite are the  “H.O.W. Specials,” which were owned by my grandmother, Mari, and Roger Wolcott. There’s a memorable photo of my grandmother standing in front of the Pagoda with a pink “H.O.W. Special,” which was driven by the legendary Eddie Sachs.

Q: There is some SPL ephemera framed in the Sparkland office. What is it? 

A: It’s an unused decal sheet, and I had it framed because I like the design repetition. I found it when we were sorting through our family or company archives. I’m glad I did, because it became a source of inspiration for our brand!

Q. What’s the ultimate Sparkland Special project?

A great story, delivered, perhaps, in an unexpected way. Something that is reverential: celebrating a person or a craft. It’s also likely to be archival—something that helps preserve history. And it’s definitely going to be something we prepare with great care and attention to detail.

Before launching Sparkland Studios in 2022, Lauren Sparkman was active in her family business, Hulman & Company, which owned and operated numerous ventures, including Clabber Girl Baking Powder and, for nearly 75 years, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.