Altus Motorsports riders Lucas Silva and Austin Phillips – who compete in MotoAmerica’s Supersport and Twins Cup race classes, respectively – wear helmets that are, let’s say, eye opening.
Specifically, Silva’s and Phillips’ helmets are Arai Corsair-X “Nakano” models. Named after former World Grand Prix and MotoGP racer Shinya Nakano, the distinguishing feature of the graphic design that adorns the Arai Corsair-X “Nakano” is a pair of oversized, cartoon-like eyes that are located on the front of the helmet, just above the faceshield.
Nakano is probably the Japanese racer best known for wearing the helmet, which is obviously what led Arai Helmets to offer a helmet commemorating Nakano. Yamaha factory MotoGP test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga has also sported a helmet with the “big eyes” design, as did the late, great Yasutomo Nagai back when he was Colin Edwards’ teammate in the Superbike World Championship.
Besides the fact that the Nakano helmet design is very distinctive and infinitely cool, why else did so many Japanese road racers wear helmets with the big eyes on them?
The originator of the, ahem, “look” goes all the way back to British road racer John Cooper, who by the way, raced against MotoAmerica Communication Manager Paul Carruthers’ GP World Champion father Kel back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
Cooper was a two-time winner of the North West 200, a race held in Northern Ireland. He is mostly remembered for his upset victory over the reigning 500cc World Champion Giacomo Agostini at the 1971 Race of the Year at Mallory Park in England. As a result of that victory, a section of the Mallory Park circuit was renamed the “John Cooper Esses”in his honor.
But, there are, in fact, two other very important things for which John Cooper should be remembered, but isn’t. First, Cooper is the man who actually invented the technique of dragging one’s knee when railing a road racing motorcycle through a turn. A technique that was perfected by King Kenny Roberts, but John Cooper is the true originator of this now-tried-and-true go-fast method.
The second thing that John Cooper is not remembered for… but should be, is that he was also the originator of those big eyes on the front of motorcycle helmets.
In fact, those eyes were such a trademark for Cooper that some old-timers and moto-historians still remember him as John “Mooneyes” Cooper. Not only did he finish a career-high 7th in the 1967 500cc World Championship final standings, but he was one of the first riders to bring a little style to his substance.
So, how exactly does John Cooper’s helmet design relate to Shinya Nakano and the Arai “Nakano” helmet worn by Lucas Silva and Austin Phillips?
It’s not only probable that Silva and Phillips don’t even know who John Cooper is, and Shinya Nakano may not even be familiar with the British racing legend. But Nakano does know Tadashi Suzuki.
Born on February 19, 1945 in Tokyo, Tadashi Suzuki was the youngest of six children. In 1962, when he was 17 years old, Suzuki participated in the Chiba speed scramble on a Yamaha YDS250. When he was 19, he became a semi-works rider for Yamaha, and he competed in the All-Japan Motocross Championship.
In 1966, Tadashi Suzuki won 21 motocross races. Of course, the mid-60s was also John Cooper’s heyday in racing, and “Mooneyes” caught the eye of Tadashi Suzuki, who painted big eyes on his own helmet. That design became as much an icon of Tadashi Suzuki in Japan as it was for John Cooper in Europe.
While Tadashi Suzuki competed in motocross, he developed extensive experience in racebike development, which led him to creating his own business called “Tadao Special Parts.” Tadao is a nickname of Tadashi.
Over the years, “Tadao Special Parts” became shortened to “SP Tadao,” and the company became primarily known as a developer and manufacturer of aftermarket and racing exhaust systems.
Similar to former U.S. racers like Chuck Graves, Terry Vance and Byron Hines, as well as many others, Tadashi Suzuki’s business was based in racing, and his products needed to be tested in racing.
So, like Graves Motorsports and Vance & Hines, SP Tadao started sponsoring racers, and in order to honor Tadashi Suzuki while also promoting the SP Tadao brand, those riders all wore helmets with the “big eyes” graphics.
As former Grand Prix rider Shinya Nakano put it, “When I was 16, I was part of theSP Tadaoracing team in Japan, whose distinctive symbol is the two big eyes. All the racers who were part of that team had the same helmet design with the big eyes on it. I continued to have the eyes on my helmets to say thank you to the team that taught me everything about racing and gave me the necessary help and support to enter the racing world for the first time.”
So, there you have it. From John Cooper, to Tadashi Suzuki, to Shinya Nakano, to Lucas Silva, Austin Phillips, and others, how’s that for an eye-opener?