By Joseph Wolkin – Gone are the days of flat black helmets. The newest era of NASCAR has made helmet art as stylized as the cars which the stars of NASCAR drive.
Helmets have developed to become much more than protective headgear. These bulky things that racecar drivers put on their heads have gone through multiple makeovers over time. Now, thanks to guys like Greg Stumpff, helmets are some of the most creative works of design in the racing business.
Stumpff is the owner of Off Axis Paint. Located in the midst of the NASCAR hub in Mooresville, North Carolina, Off Axis Paint has started to gain recognition in the racing world, and not just in NASCAR. Starting out as a motocross racer, Stumpff got involved in racing at three years old.
Stumpff has been able to design helmets for the likes of @MarkMartin, @DavidRagan, @CJMearsGang, Michael Waltrip Racing’s pit crews, @JJYeley1, and several other NASCAR racers, as well as local dirt track drivers. He even does some work with Monster Jam stars, Dennis Anderson and his two sons, Ryan and Adam Anderson.
“Back in high school, I just started painting some logos and kept getting bigger with late model drivers and sprint car drivers. Eventually, we worked our way up to the Cup Series. If you have good work, people are going to see it, and it is a lot of word of mouth,” Stumpff said. “We don’t do much advertising. It is just how good the helmet looks at the race track, if we get the word out, it will just keep coming.”
After working in his parent’s garage for multiple years, Stumpff’s move to Mooresville is paying dividends. Stumpff has been working with his partner-in-crime, Hunter Dodson, for approximately 10 years, and recently hired Mike Sauers to help out with large projects.
“I think that being right here in town, drivers can actually stop by and drop off their helmet. We have an X-Box, and the shop is pretty low key and it’s really a cool hang out spot,” he said. “I think the art work is just as good as anyone else’s out there. Instead of doing everything over the phone, you can actually come over here and see it being painted and see the whole process.”
What is the process like for Off Axis Paint to design helmets? Well, it all starts with sponsors or drivers approaching the man that has taken this company from the ground-up.
“Usually, a driver or sponsor will come to us from the website or our social networks. They will have a drawing of the car or the firesuit, so we have a basic idea of the design. After that, we put it into photo shop, and we design something completely custom for that person,” said Stumpff. “Once we get it approved on the computer, then we actually putting it on the helmet. Everything comes off the helmet and it gets sanded down and we start the design process from there. It might look a little different on the computer than the actual 3-D object like a helmet, but it is pretty straight forward.”
On average, it takes about 30-40 hours of work to complete the process of creating a helmet. Although he now has help at the shop, designing multiple helmets each week is a challenge, especially during the off-season where teams approach him approximately a month before the Daytona 500.
For Stumpff, it all started thanks to one of his high school buddies, who pushed him to get his name out there. He contacted Yeley and @BlakeKochRacing, asking them if he could just have a chance. He did and it has led him to bigger and better things. Now a large part of Stumpff’s success is due to social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, websites which he believes have helped spread his work, but a lot of it also spreads behind-the-scenes in the NASCAR garage area.
“It’s really just word to mouth, man. We don’t spend a whole lot on advertisement. It is as simple as that helmet being put on at the race track,” he said. “We treat every helmet like that – from a local dirt track driver to someone high up in the Sprint Cup Series or Nationwide. We don’t sacrifice quality. We use all top of the line stuff, and I think after you do a couple like that, people start noticing you and it catches on quick,” he said.
Over the years, Stumpff has designed a “Where’s Waldo?” helmet for Ragan, an America-Israel helmet for Yeley, an Aaron’s one for Martin, and has begun to do more work with teams and drivers because of his determination.
“My favorite driver to work with would probably be @J_Allgaier just because we are about the same age and we both come from dirt track racing backgrounds in the mid-west. He is just a great designer,” Stumpff said. “He has a whole binder here at the shop just full of design pieces. If he weren’t a Sprint Cup Series driver, he would probably come work for us because he has a lot of great ideas and he has a lot to work with.”
As he continues to work with more drivers and teams, Stumpff is starting to broaden his company to the new breed of NASCAR drivers. Recently, Stumpff designed a helmet for @Ryan_Truex, and has begun to work with @DavidGilliland’s son, Todd, amongst other developing drivers.
But after going to victory lane with Ragan at Talladega in 2013, Stumpff hopes the recognition he has begun to receive will only expand as time moves on.
Off Axis Paint can be found on Instagram and Twitter at @offaxispaint as well as Offaxispaint.com.
Joseph Wolkin is a Popular Speed Development Journalist
EMAIL JOSEPH AT email@example.com