Helmets have protected our heroes of racing for countless years. Not only are they impeccable safety devices that have continually improved over the years, but in modern days they have become absolute stunning works of art.
The canvas of a helmet is usually filled with bright colors, carbon fiber and of course sponsorship logos, lots of sponsorship logos. However, as I recently found out, the process of which each helmet is crafted is even more fascinating than the beautiful look they achieve.
Each and every helmet that comes from a customizing shop, such as Off Axis Paint in Mooresville, NC, is hand crafted to give each driver their own personal touch.
Next time you watch your favorite driver slip their helmet over their head before they climb aboard their machine, remember that each helmet takes anywhere from 10 man-hours up to 48-straight man-hours — as was the case for Martin Truex Jr.’s championship helmet in 2017 — of work to complete.
Recently, I contacted Greg Stumpff, who owns Off Axis Paint, about customizing my personal Simpson Devil Ray helmet. After the process was complete, I came away very impressed. The entire interaction was incredible, and the end product was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
When I initially reached out to Stumpff, he was very professional and you could tell he receives these kinds of calls very, very frequently (Off Axis Paint churns out over 300 custom helmets each year). As the conversation continued, he asked me a question that I had never really thought about: What did I want my helmet to look like?
It’s crazy, but I hadn’t really given it much thought. In fact, I was confused. He is the expert, I assumed he was supposed to just know and make something from nothing. I knew that I wanted it to look dark perhaps gray and black with bright green highlighted throughout.
But I had never customized a helmet before. I didn’t know where to begin.
Stumpff told me to take some time to think about it. He wanted me to draw out an example of what I had in mind for my helmet and that would give him somewhere to begin.
Again, I had no idea what I was doing, so I was slightly frustrated. Plus, I now had to actually try to open the creative side of my brain, which with a young baby running around the house and my free-time at an all-time low did not seem like a real possibility.
However, I’m glad he wanted me to do this because it was at this point that I really began to feel one with what my helmet was going to eventually become.
After toying around on my computer for a few hours, I came up with something I really liked.
My design featured my old High School football number, 70. It also incorporated my Twitter handle @Toby_Christie and the Podcast that I co-host, The Final Lap Weekly. But most importantly, it felt like me. It felt like something that fits my personal brand. Overall, it looked like something I feel I would be okay being associated with.
For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed honeycomb designs. So that was the opening emphasis of my design. I know my design didn’t have the polish of one of Stumpff’s impressive works of art that I had seen in the past, but I felt comfortable with this design.
I sent it to Stumpff and he told me it looked good — I’m still not sure if he was just trying to be nice — and he said it gave his team a really good place to start from.
It was at that point that Greg and one of his other artists Stuart Ellis went to work.
This is the stage of the process where you feel truly giddy. You can’t wait for your helmet to be ready. You wonder to yourself, did they stick with any parts of my design? Or did they opt to scrap that because it was utter crap and start fresh? You also wonder, how does the design even look on a 3D helmet rather than a 2D computer drawing.
Then, at the zenith of my anxiety, I received a photo from Stumpff.
My helmet was looking amazing, and it was sitting there drying right next to William Byron’s Axalta Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series helmet. Un-freaking-real. If that doesn’t jazz you up, I don’t know what would.
A couple of days later, I would receive my final update on how the helmet was looking.
Stumpff told me that my helmet was set to be clear coated and then he was packing it up to personally deliver this custom piece of art to me at Texas Motor Speedway.
My helmet was stowed away on Justin Allgaier’s JR Motorsports transporter, and when I arrived at the track I headed to the NASCAR Xfinity Series garage to receive my helmet.
When I removed my helmet from it’s box, I was completely blown away. It was truly incredible. The team stuck true to my original design, but they added some amazing pieces of flair to it as well. It was my design, but it was even better — way better.
Stumpff told me that my helmet took roughly 10-15 hours of work to complete — this doesn’t include the fact that the helmet must dry for six hours between each coat of paint — but the end results are truly stunning.
Off Axis took my plain carbon fiber helmet — which I have to admit did already look cool — and totally transformed it to another level. I have now become the envy of the local indoor karting facility that I frequent.
One last thing that I really enjoyed about my experience with Off Axis Paint is that you truly become part of the family when you get a helmet painted at their shop. You’re not just a customer, or a person that they collect money from.
Each helmet receives an official numbered seal on the back. Even if you’re just using your helmet to impress folks at the go kart track — like me — you are branded an official athlete of Team OffAxis. The other cool thing I like about the seal is that it has the signature of the artist who put in the majority of the work on your helmet, in my case the ultra-talented Stuart Ellis.
Getting a custom paint job on my helmet was one of the more enjoyable experiences I have had in the racing industry, and I have had some rather enjoyable experiences.
If you are in the market for a brand new helmet and/or you are wanting to have an amazing design come to life on a helmet, visit OffAxisPaint.com.
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed the sport as a fan since 1993.