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The Holy Grail

The helmet. [Photo by Jack Webster]

The helmet. [Photo by Jack Webster]

By Jack Webster

Author with the McQueen helmet. [Photo by Darren Jack]

Author with the McQueen helmet. [Photo by Darren Jack]

For a lot of people of my generation, they really got the racing bug after seeing the Steve McQueen movie “Le Mans” in a theatre in 1971. For people in later generations, I am sure that seeing that classic racing movie on DVD gave them that same inspiration.

In my case, I saw the movie on its premiere day in June of 1971. I was enthralled, excited and motivated to get involved in racing after seeing it. Shortly thereafter, in August, I saw my first professional sports car race – the CanAm race at Mid-Ohio where Jackie Stewart won in a Lola, followed by Jo Siffert in a Porsche 917 and Herbert Muller in a Ferrari 512M.

I was hooked, and now 47 years later I am still heavily involved in racing. Now as a writer and photographer, back in the 1980s as a Porsche team manager working endurance races like Daytona and Sebring. In real life, I literally acted out some of the scenes from “Le Mans” in racing situations – a true instance of life imitating art. I went to Le Mans for the race in 2005, and even though many things at the track had changed since the movie was made back in 1970, the spirit of the film was alive and stayed with me everywhere I went around the circuit. Walking the old circuit at White House I relived the opening crash sequence in the film, at Indianapolis I could still visualize those Porsches and Ferraris doing battle. It is amazing how much of an impact that film has had on my life.

Now, more than 47 years since the film was made an object that many would consider the “Holy Grail” of both motorsports and movie history has surfaced – the helmet that Steve McQueen wore during the making of the film.

Racing historian and memorabilia dealer Darren Jack has obtained this very rare piece of history and I got the chance to see and actually hold it in my hands at Amelia Island last weekend.

Art Rotondo's original artwork of Steve McQueen. [Photo by Jack Webster]

Art Rotondo’s original artwork of Steve McQueen. [Photo by Jack Webster]

The helmet, the object representing the beginning of my obsession with motorsport was right there in my hands and it was quite a humbling experience. It was as though it was a bookend to my racing life, for the movie “Le Mans” ignited my racing passion and I have been able to follow it though by living a life that I would certainly not had the opportunity to live had it not been for the influence of that film. I have recently published a book of my motorsports photography (Racing Pilots), and that would have never been possible without Steve McQueen and his iconic film, for without that film my life would have likely taken a very different path.

I am sure that my story is not unique, and that many other people in racing were influenced by “Le Mans” as well. For some it may have just kindled an interest in the sport, while for others it ignited a passion that changed the course of their life.

The helmet, along with volumes of documentation, came from the family of the late Andrew Ferguson (former Lotus F1 team manager), who was in charge of hiring all the drivers for the film. He had saved all the original contracts, notes, correspondence, schedules and related items from the film. At the conclusion of filming, McQueen presented him with the helmet. It sat in the family home, unseen for over four decades until Darren tracked it down and made a deal with the family to obtain it.

What could it be worth? Who knows, but in 2011 one of the Gulf driver suits that was worn by McQueen in the film sold at auction for nearly one million dollars. It is now 7 years later and the iconic helmet has now surfaced. How does one put a value on such a thing?

All I know is that if I won the lottery, I would be first in line to buy it, regardless of price.

For more information check out Darren’s website: racinghalloffamecollection.com

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Jack Webster has been shooting motorsports since the early 1970’s, covering Formula One, CanAm, F5000, TransAm, GrandAm and American Le Mans races, among others. In addition to his photography, he has also worked on racing teams, both in IMSA and IndyCar, so has a complete knowledge of the inner workings of motorsport. Both his photography and writing can be seen here on racingnation.com