As we head into NASCAR’s biggest race weekend of 2019, Jeffrey Earnhardt may have already secured the award for the most amazing helmet design of the season.
Helmets are a driver’s best friend. Obviously, in a severe accident they help cushion the blow, reducing the chance of a concussion — or worse. But lately, helmets have also become absolute works of art.
Earnhardt’s helmet is the latest that teeters the line of safety device and art worthy of a place at the Smithsonian Museum.
This incredible helmet, which was painted by Noel McEwen of Off Axis Paint in Mooresville, NC, looks like your usual NASCAR driver helmet at first glance from the front.
It has awesome jagged lines, carbon fiber and a cool blue accents that really pop. It’s visually stunning. However, as the helmet starts to spin around to the backside, you understand why this is no ordinary helmet.
There it is. Boldly in the center of the back of the helmet is an airbrushed portrait of Earnhardt’s grandfather, seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt.
In the striking airbrushed portrait — which was done flawlessly — Earnhardt is bare chested sitting atop a horse. It’s a famous photo that was actually the cover for a 1983 issue of Grand National Illustrated.
Next to the portrait on the helmet is perhaps the greatest tagline of all-time, “Just a goat on his horse.”
After your mind processes what you’ve just seen on the helmet, you can’t help but wonder how many hours goes into pumping out a helmet of this magnitude.
“Well from start to finish it was about 30 hours, give or take two hours,” said McEwen. “As far as the portrait and stuff itself it was probably six to eight hours.”
That is dedication. But it’s how they do things at Off Axis Paint.
McEwen, 34, met his best friend and now boss Greg Stumpff in High School. The two were introduced by their art teacher, Matt Locke. In the years before McEwen started painting helmets for Off Axis Paint, he airbrushed murals, T-Shirts and even caricatures at theme parks.
Did he ever imagine he’d be painting a shirtless Dale Earnhardt riding on top of a horse on the back of a racing helmet?
“No. I never thought I’d do that,” McEwen responded with a chuckle.
This isn’t a first for Earnhardt, as he had another helmet made by OffAxis Paint last season for the Daytona 500 that featured a portrait of his grandfather on the back of it. How did the original idea come to be? And is this a new tradition we need to keep an eye on?
“It all kind of started last year,” Earnhardt recalled. “My PR lady last year — Kate (Fegley) — Greg (Stumpff) and Noel kind of had this idea to paint a portrait on the back of my helmet of my grandfather. It was a really cool picture of him. He had just got out of the race car walking through the garage carrying boots, all sorts of crap in his hands. It just turned out incredible and got a lot of attention.
“It was really cool to have that on my helmet. When it came time to have a helmet done this year I knew they knocked last year out of the park so I thought man it would be cool to kind of make it a tradition every year to have one done for Daytona.”
How did Earnhardt come up with the idea of this new helmet design?
“I was going through a bunch of old pictures of him and — actually I think we went through a bunch of them last year. This one actually came up — a couple of them did — that were really badass looking pictures,” Earnhardt said. “Whenever we decided we were going to do one I said, ‘I want to this one of him sitting on a horse, with his shirt off,’ Just being him who he is away from the track.”
Although he won’t be in the Daytona 500 this year, Earnhardt will now attempt to forge his own legacy in the sport, while carrying a reminder of the legacy of his famous grandfather in the car with him. Earnhardt will be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 18 iK9 Toyota Supra in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for nine races in 2019. His first shot behind the wheel is this weekend in the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at Daytona.
For Earnhardt, 29, it was a hard decision to step down from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. However, for a driver who has just one top-10 finish in 151 NASCAR National Series starts while driving for fledgling race teams, the opportunity to drive for JGR was simply too good to pass up.
“I guess that’s not a bad trade off. Going from a back of the pack Cup car to a Joe Gibbs Xfinity Car. I guess I’ll take that.” Earnhardt quipped. “That’s a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to all of the races I have this year with them guys, and making the best of it. The fact going down there with the opportunity of knowing you have a race winning car — or capable car — is very exciting as a driver. When you look at where you as a driver would like to be, Gibbs is definitely one of — if not the — top one on the list.”
For those, who are up in arms that his uncle — Dale Earnhardt Jr. — didn’t give him a ride for the year at JR Motorsports, relax. Earnhardt made the move to join JGR on his own accord and for good reason.
“We were in a Toyota last year in the Cup Series with the Gaunt Brothers,” Earnhardt explained. “I really liked the feeling I got from the Toyota family, the Toyota camp. They gave me a lot of resources and stuff to better myself as a driver and just a lot of help in general to develop myself as a driver. To me that meant a lot. It’s more than any manufacturer has ever given me.
“When we started talking that we wanted to be in competitive equipment where did it make sense to do that and financially where does it make sense. With Extreme Concepts and iK9 we sat down and talked. They had already began developing a relationship with Coy Gibbs over at JGR and really just became friends more than anything. One thing lea to another and next thing you know, they were like well how would you like to drive a Toyota for Joe Gibbs?”
Now, we have an Earnhardt in a race-winning capable vehicle — at Daytona. How awesome would it be to see this helmet pop out of the window of a black Toyota Supra in victory lane?
Here is a full slideshow of Noel McEwen making Jeffrey Earnhardt’s helmet come to life:
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Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.