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  • Writer's pictureR. Villeneuve

For Whom the BELL Tolls

It’s funny what we take for granted as competitors. For example, all the equipment that is involved in racing. From the cars themselves, to the tools needed to work on them, to the transporters, the generators that constantly humm in the paddock. Even down to the equipment and gear that us drivers wear. I am sure that when fans watch as we get ready to get in the car, they figure that a perfectly sized racing suit, with matching shoes and gloves, the painted helmets, the radio equipment all just magically appear for our use or that there is some guy who gets it all for us. Maybe in the Formula 1 world of superstar drivers and cars, that’s true. For us it is a bit different, at least it is for me. 

Since I was a young boy, I was fascinated with “equipment”.

I had a fireman’s helmet, football helmets, hockey masks, army helmets, goalie pads, uniforms and catcher’s equipment. In those days, you couldn’t run to the sporting goods store and buy replica gear. No, I made everything I couldn’t buy or afford to buy! I used foam padding, tape and my imagination to make goalie pads, and anything else I couldn’t buy. No matter what, it needed to be perfect. I always had a compulsion to have things look perfect and professional. It’s not an ego thing as if I wanted to appear perfect, more a romantic reflection of the days of knights. Where their armor and decorative dress were a representation of the honor and achievement they had earned!

I am a big believer in earning things and I do not like entitlement! These days, first time student racers show up with $7,000 painted helmets and brand new driving suits.

That’s good for the economy but a bit of overkill. I like to think you earn your way to have painted helmet. It’s suppose to be an identity, a representation of you as a person while you are cloaked in a veil of ambiguity. Once the visor goes down and you can no longer see that driver’s eyes, it’s the colors and design of his helmet that dictates the persona behind the tinted visor. And As a driver becomes more successful, it becomes the way in which he is identified.

Getting back to my fascination with representation, I take the equipment I wear very seriously. As I said, there must be a world where drivers only have to worry about driving but I do not live in that world. My world is filled with a million and 1 things to think about and try to get done or have done in time for a race. Out of that 1 million and 1 things includes my helmet. At this point in the story, I don’t think I need to tell you how important it is that it’s all perfect. Helmets are billboards, communication centers, refreshment stands and safety equipment all wrapped into one. So there are a lot of elements to get right.

This year I stepped out of a GT car into an LMPC car. Besides the usual adaptation to the car I also had to adapt my equipment. IMSA and the ALMS now require that drivers in prototypes use FIA 8860 certified helmets, in short carbon fiber helmets. For the last 10 years, I have been lucky enough to be supported by BELL helmets. They were the only ones who took the time to make sure my helmets fit correctly and really cared that I was happy. I recently re-solidified my relation with BELL and they were kind enough to give my 2 helmets, 1 for open cars and 1 for GT cars.

Unfortunately, I was driving an LMPC car and forgot the mention this to the boys at BELL. As I arrived at the track for the Laguna race, I was told what was required and what I had wasn’t going to pass tech, despite its legality even in Indycar!!! So I had no choice but to contact the good folks at BELL. Without delay, they had an HP3 carbon helmet on it’s way to me just as fast as Fedex could get it there. I was so thankful to them as they did not have to step up on that level. Carbon helmets are 2 1/2 times more expensive than regular ones, so it was incredibly kind of them to extend that level of support and I am very loyal person!

The only downside of this was that obviously the helmet did not get painted. So for the second time in my life, I wore a generic helmet. The first time being, well...the first time, before I earned the valor of wearing a painted helmet. If you look through the pictures of the Laguna event you will see 3 different helmets. My Dominator in it’s orange livery, a carbon black HP3 and an orange blob. I decided, since I couldn’t get the new HP3 painted, I still needed to differentiate myself while in the car, so I threw a very poor representation of my trademark paint scheme on it using orange vinyl.

At least my kids knew it was me coming down the front straight! After all, I changed from a red helmet paint scheme to orange, because orange is there favorite color!

Regardless of the color of the helmet, I am always happy to be wearing BELL helmets and I am grateful for their support. Thank you to all the folks at BELL racing helmets!!!

You can rest assured that I am now getting that beautiful black carbon helmet painted in my traditional orange livery!

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