When motorsports writer Al Pearce started on his fifth autographed helmet for charity in 2007, his project was considered to be impossible by most who heard of the idea.
Pearce’s idea was to get all 20 living F1 champions to sign a white Simpson helmet (similar to the image above, from the Simpson website).
Phil Hill, the only US-born Formula One champion, was the first to sign the helmet, when Pearce met Hill at Hill’s home in Santa Monica, Calif., on Nov. 12, 2007. Hill later passed away on Aug. 28, 2008.
“When I walked out of his [Hill’s] house, I was committed,” Pearce said “I just didn’t think I’d get to all the F1 champions so quickly.”
On Dec. 18, 2008, Pearce got his final signature when he met Nelson Piquet in the parking lot of Piquet’s business in Brasilia, Brazil.
European Formula One journalists called Pearce’s idea, the climbing of Mt. Everest for autograph seekers.
Pearce covered auto racing for the (Newport News, Va.) Times-Herald and Daily Press newspapers from 1969 to 2004.
He has also covered NASCAR for AutoWeek Magazine for almost 40 years and has authored or co-authored a total of 13 books about NASCAR.
Pearce tells the story of how he began his motorsports career when in 1969 his sports editor wanted someone to cover the first-ever Cup race at Dover International Speedway held on July 6, 1969.
The rookie Pearce volunteered to take the place of a writer who was unable to cover the race.
Richard Petty finished first in the 32-car field that day. When Pearce had a chance, he finally asked his first motorsports question.
When he asked Petty why he didn’t open the door to get out of his race-winning Ford, Petty asked Pearce if he had ever seen a race before. Pearce answered “No.” Petty replied, “You’ve got a lot to learn.”
Pearce continued to report on, and learn about, NASCAR and in 2004 Pearce received the Henry T. McLemore Award and was the 23rd person to be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame for his work as a motorsports writer.
In November 2007, Pearce began an odyssey that covered 13 months and 68,000 miles. He got 19 of the signatures in person, while the FedEx sponsored Cup team, whose car is driven by Virginia-native Denny Hamlin, paid to send the helmet on a 19,000 mile round trip to Queensland, Australia, and back for the three-time F1 champ Jack Brabham’s signature.
The signed helmets are not Pearce’s first efforts for charity. He rode every mile of the first eight Kyle Petty’s annual Charity Ride Across America.
A few years ago, I had the chance to ask Pearce about the first ride in 1995. Pearce told me he had borrowed a Honda Gold Wing and had it shipped to California, and left with the group the Monday after the race at Sears Point.
Pearce told me that all the other riders (Harley-Davidson mounted) made fun of his using a “rice burner,” but at the end of each day's ride, he was in much better condition than the battered and shaken H-D crowd!
This is the fifth helmet Pearce will auction to raise money for the Victory Junction Gang Camp. Pearce will begin to market the helmet in January in AutoWeek Magazine, as well as other magazines, trade publications and other publications in the US and Europe.
Pearce worked through the drivers’ public relations people to obtain his signatures. Pearce’s information packet that was sent to all the drivers not only had information about the Victory Junction Gang Camp, but had letters of reference from Richard Petty and Roger Penske.
Pearce spent $5,000 of his own money to complete this F1 helmet project. Pearce’s four previous helmets were: signatures of NASCAR Cup champions, Sprint Cup Chase qualifiers, Daytona 500 winners, and Indianapolis 500 winners.
Former Indy Racing League champion and two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart gave Pearce $10,000 for the Indianapolis 500 helmet.
The full story of Pearce’s helmet was featured on the front page of the Daily Press newspaper on Dec. 31, 2008 as:
Former Daily Press auto racing writer Al Pearce travels the world to get autographs for a helmet he'll auction for charity.