Also in my garage: American numberplates

| 9 Feb 2024
Classic & Sports Car – Also in my garage: American numberplates

“I haven’t had the opportunity to visit the USA yet, no,” says Tibor Máté from his office, its walls lined with numberplates that commemorate that most American of all motorsports, NASCAR.

As testament to just what a rabbit hole collecting can become, Tibor started off, like many car enthusiasts, with model cars.

Then, looking for something to mount on the wall of his garage alongside his Alfa Romeo GT, he got into registration plates, with the aim of getting an example from each American state.

Classic & Sports Car – Also in my garage: American numberplates

Tibor Máté’s numberplate collection was more broad until the NASCAR theme became a focus

“I started to collect all kinds of speciality plates,” he recalls. “Fire service, cure breast cancer, autism awareness and then NASCAR.”

As a motorsport fan from Szentgotthárd, Hungary, Tibor fell in love with the NASCAR-themed licence plates when he found them online.

He decided to focus his attention on them, selling many of his others to fund a collection that is now more than 200 strong.

“These particular plates are issued in very limited numbers and are strongly linked with the race car and driver,” explains Tibor.

“The colours, the design, the number and the autograph of each driver are all protected by trademarks.”

Mississippi began issuing NASCAR plates in 2000, starting with the colours and numbers of 25 drivers, and other states then followed suit.

Most feature active racers, but some commemorate past greats or reference NASCAR more generally.

“The backbone of my collection is made up of Mississippi plates,” says Tibor, “although one of my favourites is a New York vanity item that says ‘IM 4 JR’ – ‘I am for Junior’ – referring to Dale Earnhardt Jnr, one of my favourite drivers.”

Tibor also cherishes his Danica Patrick plate, made in honour of the sport’s most successful female driver.

Beyond personal preference, there is also desirability through rarity in the licence-plate collecting world.

Every one has a serial number, and designs with lower numbers are more valuable.

Classic & Sports Car – Also in my garage: American numberplates

A licence plate that celebrates NASCAR and IndyCar driver Danica Patrick is one of Tibor’s favourites

Tibor has quite a few: “The plates of each design [from Mississippi] with serial numbers from 1-100 were auctioned and a portion of the sales went towards the Mississippi State Capitol restoration project.”

The rare plates from beyond the NASCAR heartlands of America’s southern states are Tibor’s next target.

“I would like more from New Jersey because they are so rare,” he says.

“I have only one, and it’s a general plate. I’d really like one with a driver on it.”

Numbers produced of a given plate vary, but most designs are only made a few hundred times, or at most a thousand, which Tibor attributes to the sport’s grassroots following.

“These are speciality plates and you pay an extra fee for them,” he says.

“It’s $36 extra for a Mississippi plate; the blue-collar driver can’t afford that, so they have become quite rare.”

Having never been Stateside himself, Tibor buys most of his collection via eBay.

“It is too expensive to send them one by one,” he explains.

“My friend Rudolf, who restores Mustangs, has connections in Florida, so they get sent there and then posted over in batches.”

While Tibor’s family doesn’t share his niche enthusiasm, he reports a thoroughly friendly online licence-plate community, in which he has made new friends and helps others with their own searches.

“It’s very supportive,” says Tibor. “I didn’t know Rudolf before we met as collectors. Now we meet up and drive his cars together. It’s a wonderful friendship.”

Images: Tibor Máté

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