By: Justin Felisko September 05, 2014@ 03:00:00 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When Cody Nance nods his head inside Bridgestone Arena this weekend, the Paris, Tennessee, native will not only have a strong contingent of local support, but he will have a custom-painted bull riding helmet protecting him.
Nance is one of a group of bull riders that have chosen to stride away from the traditional cowboy hat for the more protective bull riding helmet. However, Nance has been able to add his own style to the helmet thanks to Des Moines, Iowa, artist Jimmy Navarro.
Navarro is a contemporary landscape artist that has also done a variety of helmet designs for Ironman contestants and motorcyclists.
He and Nance were connected through the bull rider’s agent, Jane DelBianco, after Navarro began cold calling people involved with the PBR to gauge interest.
“I know some guys don’t want to wear helmets, but what if they could wear ones that look awesome?” Navarro wondered. “That was my whole aspect of why I wanted to do this.”
Navarro has painted two custom helmets for Nance. A third one – a purple and blue-based helmet to match his 2014 chaps and sponsors – is on the way and may be ready by the time the BFTS rolls into Springfield, Missouri, next weekend. Navarro says he is also working on a simple one for world title contender Mike Lee that the 2004 World Champion may use at the Built Ford Tough World Finals.
All three helmets, including Nance’s most commonly used black II Tough Helmet, have one common design. There must be three crosses, which are symbolic for the crucifixion of Jesus.
“It is really cool,” Nance said. “I just like it because it is unique and it stands for what I believe in.”
The black helmet version features a bright orange and yellow background sky behind the crosses. The top of the helmet transitions into an ominous sky with lightning in the clouds, and the sides of the helmet have metallic swirls blending into the black edging.
The 26-year-old used the helmet last weekend in Thackerville, Oklahoma, and first received it before the final 2013 regular-season BFTS event in Hollywood, Florida. The design is based on an image that Nance’s wife, Jordan, found on the Internet.
Navarro talked with Nance once on the phone before sending sketches over to the 2009 Rookie of the Year. The main thing Nance stressed in terms of the look was that he wanted a design that was bold, but simple.
“Cody told me ‘here is the stuff I definitely feel like I have to have,’” Navarro remembers. “He wanted the sun coming up, a little blast of power in the lightning bolts and stuff like that. So I said, ‘We’ll do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and we will come up with a design.’”
Navarro further explained, “With the lightning bolts (and contrasting colors), it is symbolic of the turmoil we have in life.”
He said the most important thing of all is that the helmets he designs reflect what his clients desire.
Nance was surely impressed.
“I knew I wanted crosses and was looking at different cross scenes,” Nance said. “He blended in the piece of artwork that sits on top – the three crosses and the sky. He did an outstanding job.”
Before he begins the process of hand-painting the helmets, Navarro uses an old-school approach of pencil sketching images and designs. It then takes him a couple days to finish the helmets. Navarro spends normally one day sanding and prepping a helmet for painting. He will then take another half day or so to actually hand paint the helmet before getting it finalized and sealed with a protective coating.
Navarro really enjoyed the second helmet he made for Nance. It is a red, white and blue helmet with the American flag on it, which Nance wore at THE AMERICAN this past March in Arlington, Texas.
“I really love that helmet, that one was perfect,” Navarro added.
While custom-painted helmets are a rarity in the PBR, other sports, such as hockey and NASCAR, have had players consistently customize their helmets. Many bull riders have custom-designed chaps and with more bull riders wearing helmets, it is only fitting that special designs may become more possible in the future.
Navarro believes it wouldn’t be uncommon to see riders with similar sponsors get custom-designed helmets that would reflect their sponsors’ primary colors, while also allowing riders to add a personal touch to the gear.
Regardless of the imagery, the main thing is having riders take the extra step to protect themselves, Navarro understands.
Nance enters the Jack Daniel’s Invitational on Friday night ranked ninth in the world and sits a little more than 2,500 points behind No. 1 Joao Ricardo Vieira. He will be hoping a little home cooking could result in a positive conclusion on Saturday night.
“It is really exciting,” he said. “I am two hours from the house. There will be a bunch of my family and friends there to support me.
“I am thankful for that.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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