By Brenna R. Kelly
Enquirer staff writer
Mr. Smiley's grin may be a bit bigger today.
The "smiley face" license plate may not have many fans in its home state of Kentucky, but an international license-plate collectors' group has concluded that it's the best license plate in the country.
The plate, with the sun and motto, "Kentucky, It's that friendly," beat out more than 200 other plates to win the group's Best License Plate 2003 contest.
"Kentucky really does stand head and shoulders above everyone else," said Tim Stentiford, director of the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association contest.
The 3,000-member group based in Connecticut has been judging plates since 1970 based on attractiveness and legibility.
The bright colors and distinctive design of Kentucky's general-issue plate are things that "other states reserve for their specialty plates that you have to pay more for," he said.
But it's because of Mr. Smiley that more Kentuckians are opting to pay for a specialty plate instead.
"I'm not a big fan of it," said Krista Kentley, "but my husband was adamant about not getting the smiley face."
Kentley, of Florence, opted for the Nature's Finest Cardinal plate for $25
When the smiley-face plate was unveiled in December 2002, sales of specialty plates increased.
Tira Rogers, of Burlington, refused to put the smiley face on any of her three cars.
"It makes Kentucky look stupid," she said. "It's a beautiful plate, the sunset is gorgeous, but putting a smiley face on the sun - it's juvenile."
She opted for two plates supporting spaying or neutering animals and one nature plate.
"Since we hated the other plate," she said, "at least we could get one that helps animals."
Some motorists were shocked to learn of Mr. Smiley's new title.
"You're kidding," said Ellen Pullen, of Union, who opted for a butterfly instead of "the Raisin Bran-looking one." She added, "I think they need to get a new research company."
Association members liked the colorful design, easy-to-read state name and embossed letters of the Kentucky plate, Stentiford said.
The group was aware of residents' disdain for the smiley face, he said.
"Our bottom line to the motorists of Kentucky," Stentiford said, "is you may not like your Mr. Smiley face, but the rest of the country sure does."
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