For a new or casual race fan, it can be difficult to identify American Le Mans Series drivers while on track. The 2012 running of Petit Le Mans hosted 42 entries with three drivers to a car. Without each driver wearing a unique helmet, it would be close to impossible to identify drivers while on track.
It was not until the 1930s, over 30 years into the evolution of motorsports, that race tracks and sanctioning bodies started to require the use of helmets in motor races. Even then, helmets in those days and the couple decades to follow consisted of simply of leather or cotton with a small strap under the chin of the driver. Present day helmets now consist of a carbon exterior, allowing drivers to use the canvas to showcase a design of their choosing.
One can never underestimate the power of a helmet’s presentation. One of film’s most beloved villains, Darth Vader, has arguably the most famous helmet in pop culture. Not only did the helmet keep the fictional character alive, but the appearance added a sense of fear and intimidation. The dark colors combined with the large eyes and rigid jaw immediately reflected the personality of the antagonist.
Although the helmets of Falken drivers Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers may not be as intimidating as Vader’s, they are just as unique. We asked Falken Tire fans to send in their questions and we sat down with the drivers to learn about both of their helmets.
In the beginning when I started racing, I didn’t care about the design of the helmet and I didn’t have anything special in mind. I just brought a helmet to a painter and told him to do something, and he did it. Whenever I got a new helmet, I had a new design or different colors, so it was always something new.
At one point, when my racing became more professional, I thought maybe I should get a design and keep it through my whole career of racing. I had no idea what to do. I went to my uncle, who raced in the 80s, to see what he did with his helmet. He had a design with a blue or red arrow on his helmet, and I liked it and thought, “Why not do that?”
For my next helmet after that, I told the painter to do something with an arrow, starting with the back of the helmet going over top or on the side, and I asked for bright colors. Colors you can see immediately when the driver is sitting in the car. You can instantly identify who is driving. In the beginning it was yellow and green very bright. I kept those two colors for a couple of years, and then I started to change the colors.
Since we have to have carbon fiber helmet, the price for a helmet is about $4,000 USD, which is pretty expensive. Then for a paint job, it can vary between $500 and $1,000 USD. Since we’re driving only closed cars with a windshield, we keep the same visor and it’s open all the time to get more air inside the helmet.
I replace my helmet about every two years. My next helmet will have the same design. It’s my favorite so far.
A driver’s helmet is their business card. You know early on from your career that you stick with one design and it evolves as you grow up and styles change. One of the things that always remained true of all my helmets was the design. It was something that helmet painter and I just jotted up because we liked the way it looked.
It’s changed a little over the years: where the scallops go and how the lines fall, but all and all the design has stayed true over the past ten years or so. The other thing is the color. Orange is my favorite color and came about early when I stared my career, even in karting. One of the things my dad always said was, “You can have it painted however you want, but it has to be bright so you can pick it out on track.” A bright orange has always been on my helmet in some way or another in all of the helmets I’ve had. It’s still funny to this day because people tell me “I can see when you’re in the car because of your orange!” it serves its purpose.
I always have some sort of design laid into the backgrounds of my helmets--Something that you can’t see from a distance, but once you get closer you can see it. I’ve used the same helmet painter for over ten years now. He changes them from helmet to helmet, but there’s some sort of design that is laid back into the paint that is ghosted in. On this one it just so happens to be circles for no particular reason.
On the helmet right now it’s a matte black on some parts. But when you touch the helmet, it’s rubber. It’s not just a matte finish. The matte finish phase was coming in and I had a couple helmets like that, but my painter and I both wanted to do something different. My painter said ‘I have some really cool pain that feels like a hockey puck. What if we do part of your helmet in that?” So we did part of it with that black to give it a contrast. By regulation, you have to run a carbon helmet. Even though it’s matte black and it’s a rubber finish, you can look close and see all the carbon outlays in the black, where he just did a light coat.
For me, it’s been more about the color and staying true to the design than it has been any particular features. It’s neat when I go back and look at my helmets through the years. They’re all so different with shades of orange and complimentary colors to go along with them, but they’re all still the same. You can tell it’s one of my helmets. That’s what it’s about for me: Being able to look and say, “Oh that’s different than the last,” but yet you still know whose it is.
You also need to take into account sponsor obligations. We always have the small things that we try to keep on there, like the visor strips. Wolf’s has to say Porsche, and mine should say Falken, so we both have those on our visors.
You change your clothes and your styles, but that’s the one thing that has stayed true from when I was a kid until now. I like my helmet. It’s one of the few things I have in my life in my life that I haven’t changed for that long.