Nick Pastura

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. on skeleton helmet design: ‘Make everybody think I’m a little crazy’

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CONCORD, North Carolina – Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a one helmet kind of guy.

The reason is simple. They’re kind of expensive.

“When people come asking for helmets, it is kind of hard to give them away because that is the only helmet I have from that season,” Earnhardt said Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I like to keep it myself and store it away. So, I don’t have a whole lot of helmets floating around. I know that Tony (Stewart) was really smart wearing a different one each week, I probably should have done something like that. The Stilo’s (brand of helmet) I’ve got are $3-5,000 apiece and I ain’t buying them. So, I just wear the same one all year.”

Since he only has to worry about one helmet, the 14-time most popular driver has made sure it counts. Each helmet has a special skeleton-themed design created by Nick Pastura.

MORE: A look at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s helmets through the years

So what’s up with the skeletons? Besides being creepy.

“When I started racing in the Xfinity Series in ’98 or ’99, I think, we started getting helmets from Nick Pastura and he used to paint backdrops for rock and roll tours like Guns N’ Roses and so forth, so I figured he could paint a mean skull,” Earnhardt said. “So, I just told him to put something on the back that would make everybody think I’m a little crazy (laughter) and make all those drivers wonder about me. And we just never have changed the theme.

“I don’t know what else I’d put on there anyway. I think it was more about ‘Hey Nick, you just have fun with this and do whatever you want to do.’ I like skulls and pirates and all that good stuff. So, just have fun with it. And he just does something new every time. And he’s done an amazing job.”

But Pastura will get to design one more helmet for Earnhardt before he retires from full-time Cup competition following this season.

Pastura will design the helmet Earnhardt will wear in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Earnhardt’s final start. Earnhardt didn’t provide any details on the helmet, but it will be in addition to driving a paint scheme based on the first Budweiser car Earnhardt drove at the beginning of his Cup career.

Once the race is over, Earnhardt will give his helmet to team owner Rick Hendrick.

“If the car makes it through the race, I’m going to take the car and Rick can have the helmet. That is our deal,” Earnhardt said. “That is the same deal he had with Jeff (Gordon) is that Jeff gave him the helmet and Jeff got the car.  And so, I think that is the same deal I’m going to get with Rick.”

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Special delivery: Dale Earnhardt-themed helmet one of many unique designs for Tony Stewart

HHP/Harold Hinson
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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.

July 1, 2016: Tony Stewart during practice at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fl. (HHP/Harold Hinson)
Tony Stewart helmet at Daytona International Speedway. (HHP/Harold Hinson)

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.

TonyStewart Rolling Thunder
Helmet Tony Stewart wore when he won at Sonoma. (Photo: Nick Pastura)

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.’’