Head Case – From Issue 12.1. Jan/Feb 2012
Perhaps it was the November technical bulletin that the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association sent out that got me thinking about helmets and the new requirement for the 2012 racing season. SA2000 helmets are out and as of January 1 the SVRA and virtually all the other race sanctioning bodies will require competitors to use helmets that have the Snell SA2005 rating or newer (SA2010).
That’s really no surprise since the Snell 2000 helmets are now past their sell by (and use by) dates so it is time to hang them up. And earlier this year I did just that, sending my Sparco to that great helmet shelf in the sky—actually the top tier of the overstuffed bookcase in my office, next to the Bell Star that saved my life back in 1972.
Oh, yeah, lined up on shelves and scattered among gear and gadgets in my garage and office are more than 20 retired automotive and motorcycle helmets including the two mentioned. They represent many thousands of miles in my five-plus decades of motorcycle racing/riding experience and the years in which I’ve raced Formula Fords and vintage cars. Every helmet has a story—actually more than that—the helmets represent many miles of bravado, adventure and countries visited. Which is precisely why I can’t seem to part with them once they’re not fit to wear any longer. Like human bones, helmets get brittle with age, so the level of energy absorption degrades. Let’s face it, you don’t don a helmet to participate in billiards or table tennis, so in general terms grabbing hold of a chin strap and pulling a helmet down over your head usually means a rise in the heart rate by this simple act alone. Then there is what comes next!
I keep all of my old helmets dusted, and the new Arai models I currently wear are cleaned and waxed after every ride or race and get tucked inside a helmet bag ready for the next adventure. Unfortunately—or fortunately because of my limited storage space—not every helmet I’ve ever owned is in the collection because along the way a few were “borrowed” and never returned and two went missing during a move.
Some might think that only a head case would hang on to so many old helmets that have long outlived their useful and safe life cycle and they might be right. There’s always a look of bewilderment on people’s faces if they’ve never been in my garage as they stroll in and spot helmets lined up like old soldiers that have been to battle, although the restored ’67 Bultaco Metralla MkII perched in my home’s foyer might be a hint that they are in an enthusiast’s domain.
So, when I see my old helmets in repose up there on the shelf, I think of spectacular European vistas in the Italian alps where I rode a new Benelli Sei in 1974 or my first Jim Russell Racing School at Laguna Seca driving a Van Diemen Formula Ford in the rain. There’s an open-face Bell that appeared on the cover of Cycle World and what I wore competing in many 1975 ISDT Qualifiers across the country on a 360 Bultaco Frontera—from the deserts of SoCal to the dense woods of humid Alabama and the mud slime of Ft. Hood, Texas hills. It also went along trail riding with Malcolm Smith and five-time World 500cc Motocross Champion Roger DeCoster.
A few early Simpson “Darth Vader” models came from the time my ad agency did all of Simpson’s advertising. I had Rick Mears sign the one like he wore. And the damaged and scraped Bell Star that saved my noggin was in place when a particularily evil-handling ’72 Kawasaki 750 two-stroke Triple spit me off the high side and sent me to the hospital with fractures of the ribs and shoulder.
I stared through the face shield of a more recent Arai model on a monumental 3000- mile ride through Baja with my wife Karen on a GS-1100 BMW and I can’t ever look at that helmet without thinking about fish tacos, stray cattle and spinning donuts on a deserted hard-packed beach at low tide. And the Sparco I recently retired was on board five different Listers racing at venues coast-to- coast and during track drives with some amazing historic machines like a Birdcage Maserati. How could I part with that?
What’s ahead now is to take my two latest Arai helmets to new adventures, so that someday they’ll be on a shelf to remind me again of all the fun I’ve had.