DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Tony Stewart didn’t know what his helmet for tonight’s Coke Zero 400 would look like before it arrived.
All he knew was that it would be “cool.’’
When he saw the Dale Earnhardt-themed helmet, cool wasn’t the word that came to mind.
“It was … badass,’’ Stewart told NBC Sports.
Stewart is celebrating his final season driving in the Sprint Cup Series with a different helmet for nearly every race. The only instruction he gave artist Nick Pastura, who has designed Stewart’s helmet the past seven years, is “do what you want to do.’’
It’s led to a variety of helmets from Speed Racer-themed, to one inspired by AC/DC, to the Earnhardt helmet. Stewart never sees the design until the helmet arrives.
“I’m looking forward to each of them each week because they’ve all been pretty cool this year,’’ Stewart said.
Unlike other helmet designs honoring Earnhardt that featured a No. 3 or his car, Pastura wanted to focus solely on Earnhardt.
“I sort of wanted to do something that was really laid back, you sort of had to take a second look at it to see, and I sort of wanted it embedded into the helmet,’’ Pastura told NBC Sports.
Earnhardt’s face adorns both sides of Stewart’s helmet. Earnhardt wears sunglasses with the checkered flag reflected in one of the lenses. It captures the essence of the seven-time champion and what made him a fan favorite.
On the helmet’s back, Pastura put a quote by Dale Earnhardt Jr. about his father: “No fire could burn his character. No stone could break it.’’
Pastura heard the quote years ago and recalled it as he thought of what to do with Stewart’s helmet for this race.
After tonight’s race, though, the helmet won’t belong to Stewart. An avid racing helmet collector, Stewart is trading it to Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one of his helmets.
“It’s neat that he wants to trade them off with other drivers,’’ Pastura said.
Although Stewart did not race in the Daytona 500 because of an offseason sand dunes accident, this helmet was not intended for that race.
Pastura had something more special.
The Daytona 500 helmet featured gold leaf painting on it with the Daytona 500 on it and the date. It sits unfinished in Pastura’s shop but he plans to finish it.
Each helmet takes 20-40 hours to complete and that doesn’t include the time to create the theme for each. Some are easier than others because of Stewart’s history at a track or something else that ties to Stewart.
Pastura designed the Rolling Thunder helmet for Stewart to use last weekend at Sonoma. That idea came from the AC/DC song.
“He’s a Kid Rock freak and an AC/DC guy,’’ Pastura said. “I listened to AC/DC here in the shop. Rolling Thunder was a cool song from AC/DC, so I named it Rolling Thunder. That one was neat.’’
Other helmets, though, carry more weight, such as the helmet Stewart will adorn for his final race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a track Stewart reveres.
That helmet will need to be special. So what does Pastura have planned for that one?
“The Indy helmet is super top secret,’’ Pastura said.
All he’ll say is that “it could be an emotional helmet for Tony.’’