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Grid Talk – Mark Brown | Columns | Gassit Garage

Mark Brown is a guy who’s designed lids for some of Australia’s top racers surely has some tales to tell…

Painting custom helmets, you must get to know the riders in a different way to most people.

Yeah that’s right. I guess you could go back to Jason Crump. I first started painting his helmets maybe 12 years ago, and as time goes on you find out their personal journey through specific things they might want on their helmet, like a birth in the family or an achievement. You get to know that athlete a bit more personally than you otherwise normally would.

With Toby Price, I’d known him from a young age as he was coming through the ranks. He had many accidents and personal things happen. His talent was there, absolutely, but there was also a lot of bad luck with injuries. You could see that he needed that bit of a lucky break, and then he came to the enduro side of things.

Next thing he was winning races and championships, and I felt it was as if he was getting recognised for his talent after he had won something. It’s hard to explain the journey, but you can see when people have the talent – they just don’t always get to show it by winning. It is cool to know someone when they are developing that potential, and for me it’s cool when someone like Toby says his helmets are his favourite thing off the bike. It’s his one memento that he really values…he says they will go to the grave with him!

Can you pick any common threads in people that do realise their talent?

For some people, I think being told something can’t be done makes them hungrier! Maddo [Robbie Maddison] is a perfect example, with the waterbike. When people say it can’t be done, a person like him just wants to prove them wrong. I remember five years ago he came home and told me he rode a bike on the lake, and I thought he meant aquaplaning or something! Then he said, ‘No, I mean deep water on a lake!’ It turns everything you know about bikes on its head.

With guys like Robbie, Toby, Glenn Kearney, they all have an incredible work ethic. Even though social media is big these days, they don’t care who has the most followers or the most likes – it doesn’t matter to them.

You might see things on Facebook or YouTube and it might look spectacular, but it doesn’t show the hard work that’s gone on behind the scenes to achieve those goals. Take Robbie for example, he’s put himself on the line so many times, and I don’t mean just from his jumps. Personally for him it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but he was always aware of his long-term goals. If that meant sacrificing a little bit of comfort for a while, that was okay. He never gives up and has such a strong work ethic and amazing willpower. Same with Toby. He’s been to hell and back with broken body parts, personal things – it makes him hungry for success. When those guys are faced with adversity, they are able to dig really deep and see things through to the end. Once they accomplish their goals, then they relax a little.

You got into painting helmets through a dirtbike accident yourself, so it can’t have been a smooth road for you either…

In 1995 I broke five vertebrae in my neck. Up until then I was racing motocross, but just like that I thought my world was finished. The doctors said the most extreme sport I would ever play is chess. C1 and C2 were cracked, C3 and C4 were crushed, C5 was cracked. If they operated there was a strong chance of spinal cord damage.

I was in a halo brace for four months, but my friends stuck by me. My boss, he could see I wanted to work hard. So even though I was really badly injured, he kept my apprenticeship open for me. He knew I would come back stronger and I was fortunate
for that.

The helmets look incredible – how much work typically goes into each one?

On average, each custom helmet takes between 10 and 20 hours to complete. For designs that are more intricate it might be 25 to 35 hours. It’s mostly paint, we don’t use a lot of stickers. Sometimes I’ll be up for 24 or 32 hours at a time to meet a deadline – it’s not all glitz and glamour that’s for sure!   

  Interview MATT O’CONNELL