The Vancouver Sun from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on August 27, 1997 · 56
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The Vancouver Sun from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada · 56

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Issue Date:
Wednesday, August 27, 1997
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D 1 6 The Vancouver Sun. Wednesday, August 27, 1997 INDY ! - L .... These days Greg Moore's helmet is actually more subtle and corporate than in his early driving years The helmet is the one piece of equipment that says something about the Indy driver PATRICK CARPENTIER, Canada CHRISTIAN F1TTIPALDI, Brazil ' lOa3&aa&SSi Is GREG MOORE, Canada SCOTT PRUETT, U.S.A. : was a gracious and spontaneous gesture on . Greg Moore's part when the youngest driver ever to win a CART race autographed his racing gloves and handed them to Keri-Lee Griffiths, the poster girl for the B.C. Kidney Foundation, at press conference on June 17. Keri-Lee, a 17-year-old Aldergrove kidney transplant recipient who needs constant anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life, was almost speechless when she received the gauntlets Moore used to steer to victory at the Miller 200 in Milwaukee on June 1. It was something he wanted to do, nothing he had to do, Moore admitted. But gloves are gloves. Had someone asked him to part with his Troy Lee-designed helmet, the most personal piece of equipment worn by a race car driver, it might have been a different story. The helmets worn by CART drivers are much more than protective casings to coddle the cranium. In a sport where lead-footed gladiators are al-most unrecognizable, whirring through super-speedways and city streets at 300 kilometres per hour in race cars festooned with a blizzard of corporate and sponsor logos, a helmet is a driver's statement that he is an individual as unique as his own face. "The only thing we have that's personal on a race car is the helmet," says Patrick Car-pentier, the rookie from Joli-ette, Quebec who drives for Bettenhausen Motorsports. "The helmet is the one piece of equipment that really says something about the driver." Take his own helmet, for example. Carpentier, a practitioner of Zen Buddhist philosophy, has a stylized rendering of Shaolin Castle, the place where Zen Buddhism began "I'm not really trying to make a statement," Carpentier insists. "I've always liked the Zen philosophy as a way of improving my concentration. The helmet also has four number sevens, and those numbers help me see through the pain. There are bands of white, gold and green. White is for purity, gold is for success, the highest level on the podium, and green is for hope. I actually look at my helmet sometimes for inspiration." What Carpentier also wants is some recognition for his friend, who goes by the professional name of Hairbrush Bobby, a struggling artist from Repentigny, Que. Bobby offered to do Patrick's design, laying one stunning design after another on fibreglass, for free. "I gave him some ideas and colors and he just did it," Carpentier says. "Bobby doesn't have a lot of money, but I think he's a great artist with a great heart who needs the exposure. I started offering him $200 to $300 Cdn. for each helmet, but it's amazing how many times other artists offer to do helmet designs for free. I have seven or eight helmets and Bobby has done them all." Moore's helmet with the Player's Racing blue of his sponsor is actually more Some of them get pretty wild. Tracy's is probably the most creative. He's proud of pushing the limits. We encouraged him to stay with same paint job but we chromed it with 24-carat gold and holographic flake. When the sun hits it, it turns different colors. The P and T of his name are in 24-karat gold PAUL TRACY, Canada TROY LEE 33 mIJ....,.,J.. '...J DENNIS VITOLO, U.S.A. subtle and corporate than in his early driving days. "He wanted a lot of mix . . . lightning bolts and the flag. When he went to Player's Racing, they wanted it to be a bit more low-key," says Troy Lee, a retired motocross rider who designs helmets in his 6,500 square foot shop in Corona, Calif., for many of motor racing's biggest stars, among them Moore, Paul Tracy, Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, NASCAR'S John Andretti and Ricky Rudd, and Formula One star Jean Alesi. "Greg's helmet is certainly .11 1 1 JrBi v - - cmmwm Cci m sAI ;JAI ffd $ Absolutely no cash out of your pocket! Drive away in a new Sunfire without paying a cent! 2.2L fuel injected engine, 5-speed transmission, 4-wheel ABS, dual air bags, sports suspension, AMFM stereo, rear spoiler, 24-hour Roadside Assistance SmartLease 0vom $279 xr month36 months with zero down. 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"It's hard to say if it's him or not." As the helmet is a canvas for an artist's creativity, Tracy prefers a design to be as wild as his racing style. However, Lee, who is used to dealing with racers, one-on-one, is a bit overwhelmed by the corporate committee-making process of teams like Player's Racing and Team Penske. His first attempt at a helmet for Tracy was vetoed by Roger Penske, whose personality is as stripped-down and utilitarian as a race car. Penske didn't care much for the eye-popping fluorescent orange Lee had selected. "Roger wanted something subtle, something classic looking, until he built a name for himself," Lee says. Among the most elaborate hats in CART, Tracy's 1997 helmet design began with a chrome base, multiple layers of blue and a fish-scale design on the top. "Basically, car racing helmets have gone the way of hockey goalie masks," Tracy says. "Everybody's got their own little personal touch. Greg's helmet is flashy but not like it used to be. My helmet's always been fairly flashy but the colors have been plain. This winter I wanted to shake things up a bit. I wasn't sure what Roger was going to say about it. But I know he likes chrome, polish, things that are shiny. So when he saw my helmet, he liked it. He said he was okay with it." Wisely, Lee and Tracy had also chosen to incorporate the red, black and white colors of Penske Racing, just in case Roger had a change of heart. One of Lee's first customers was Dominic Dobson, the former IndyCar driver from Seattle who had regularly rid-den mountain bikes with Troy's brother, Kelly. When Tracy said he liked the look of Dobson's design and felt his own helmet needed freshening, Dobson suggested the rookie contact Troy Lee Design. That opened the door for a flood of new business from IndyCar drivers. "Some of them get pretty wild," Lee says. "Tracy's is probably the most creative. He's proud of pushing the limits. We encouraged him to stay with same paint job but we chromed it with 24-carat gold and holographic flake. When the sun hits it, it turns different colors. The P and T of his name are in 24-karat gold." Vasser, the defending CART champion whose first racing memories were watching his father's drag racing competi tions in Southern California, wanted flames on his helmet. "Jimmy is big into hot rods and stuff, but he was really worried about how the flames would look on an Indy car," Lee says. "We ended up beginning with a white helmet and using white pearl for the flames. Then we used blue. It's pretty subde from a distance but really neat close up." Michael Andretti's helmet is really the exception to the rule. His is modeled after the one worn by his father, the legendary Mario Andretti, and thus he's kept the same conservative theme for years Lee has come a long way since setting up shop in his parents' garage as a 13-year-old. He learned the craft from his dad, but never thought it would lead to a business opportunity. Not until he tore all the ligaments in his knee in motocross and decided that working full-time in helmet design had its advantages. Today, he does most of his work on computers. "My designs were going better than my racing, and I start to ask myself, 'Why risk a broken leg or a broken wrist when you can make money in painting helmets." Nowadays, he has a 30 employees and a multi-million dollar business that has expanded its scope to downhill skiing, skateboarding, mountain biking, extreme sports and his first love, motocross. "Motor racing has grown phenomenally since I started painting helmets, but because there's so much money in the sport now, corporations and teams want more control over everything, right down to the design of a racing suit," Lee says. "The only personal touch left for the racer is the hel- -met." Only half a dozen employees are actually involved in ' the helmet design process. The rest are busy cranking J out lucrative visors, bicycle jerseys and sticker kits that . are the real financial backbone of the company. ;' Still, the lure of lucre won't v keep the 36-year-old en- , trepreneur from attending to his first, and most abiding love helmet design. Now i; he does a thriving business in customers who want replicas -' of racing helmets like the one worn by Tracy. It's not an inexpensive hobby. The prices vary from about $800 to $1,500 US "Lee says. "Customers buy them and ! take 'em to the racers to sign. We get a little more famous each year as more people collect 'em." A collector himself, Lee has '-. constructed a museum at his -shop, where he has outdated helmets, driving suits and -. other mementos worn by some of his famous clientele. mmmmmmmmm " Get it delivered

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