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Speedway company builds Indy 500 drivers' helmets

Bell Helmets, based in Speedway, has a permanent home at the track during the Month of May, and there's one man in charge of building the helmets from scratch.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis 500 qualifications are Saturday and Sunday, and a local company plays a critical part in keeping drivers safe on every turn of every race. 

Bell Helmets, based in Speedway, has a permanent home at the track during the Month of May, and there's one man in charge of building the helmets from scratch.

At 225 miles per hour, safety must take precedent. Next to the track on Gasoline Alley, Glenn "Packy" Wheeler is the man for the job.

"I'm the only person that ever touches their helmets, so it isn't four or five different people," Wheeler said. "From the time that it's built to the time that they wear it, there's only one person that works on it, and that's me, and I think that confidence kind of breeds over to people like Alexander Rossi, who came over to Bell this year."

Credit: WTHR
Bell Helmets builds the protective headgear for more than half of the drivers in the Indy 500.

After starting in California, Bell Helmets is now based right off Main Street in Speedway. During race month, the company sets up shop at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

Wheeler turns an empty shell into a vessel for protection and performance and maintains them for more than half of the drivers in the Indy 500.

"You want a nut and bolt, check the visor hardware, just cleaning," Wheeler said.

All the big players move in and out of this office for those adjustments.

Bell Helmets has come a long way in 70 years, with all the bells and whistles. However, one thing has stayed the same.

"We're in this for safety. These are all built in foreign countries and shipped over here, and no one builds these like we do here in the United States for these athletes," Wheeler said.

"They've always done a better job than anyone else in the business. They've taken care of their guys, on top of providing a great product," IndyCar driver and team owner Ed Carpenter said.

Credit: WTHR
The helmets the drivers wear for the Indy 500 weigh between two and three pounds and start around $6,000.

"These guys put their lives on the line when they do this. That's why safety is such a huge factor here, and all these little steps that we do is all for them," Wheeler said.

The helmets weigh between 2 and 3 pounds and start around $6,000.

Qualifications for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing are Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22 beginning at noon ET.

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