Brad Plantenga Does Helmet Artwork for Many Athletes Including Indy 500 Drivers

Writer / Natalie Platt
Photography Provided

Ask Kokomo native Brad Plantenga if he has always been creative, and you’ll be met with an “I guess so.” And he’d be right. Plantenga won an art contest when he was 6 years old for a bicycling magazine, and first got paid to paint something when he was 16.Brad Plantenga

“I was always drawing motorcycles and cars, and painting numbers and flames on my Hot Wheels cars,” Plantenga says. “That developed into sign painting. I had a sign-painting job in Indy, and would rush home to letter and number race cars. My first paid job was a number plate for a friend’s BMX bike.”

Now, almost 30 years later, Plantenga can say he turned his creative hobby into a longstanding career through his business, Bullseye Visual. Bullseye is in reference to Bullseye Cycle, a favorite company of his that makes BMX parts. After officially opening for business, he initially painted signs, numbers and letters on race cars, but he focuses solely on helmets now. In fact, you’ve likely heard of some of his most prominent clients.

“I would have never dreamed that painting my own motorcycle helmet when I was 11 years old would lead to working with guys like Ed Carpenter, Dale Earnhardt and Tony Stewart,” he says. “This all took off when a local driver, Tony Elliott, hooked me up with Simpson Helmets when they were in Indy in the early ‘90s.”

Simpson Helmets, at that time, was sending paint orders to California and Wisconsin. That is, until Plantenga told the company they could send the orders to him.

Carpenter, a driver in the 2023 Indianapolis 500, wore a helmet painted by Plantenga, and Gil de Ferran, winner of the 2003 race, did too. His longest-running client is Davey Hamilton, who started working with Plantenga in 1994 and has driven in several Indy 500 races.

Other notable customers for Plantenga include Donny Schatz, Cruz Pedregon, Alex Zanardi, Michael Waltrip and Sammy Swindell.

Brad Plantenga“I’m really blessed to work with a lot of great drivers and heroes of mine during my 30-year career,” he says.

Outside of race car drivers, Plantenga has painted helmets for Olympic ski racers, as well as BMX and other athletes. He’s also painted a few aviation and skydiving helmets along with sprint car drivers, all in a large, two-story garage behind his home while sitting on a simple black and silver stool. It’s an unassuming space for someone providing artwork for big-time athletes.

At one time Plantenga thought about moving his business to Indianapolis, but decided to stay local.

“I was born here in Kokomo and went to Haworth High School,” he says. “When I was young, I couldn’t wait to get out of here. I’m really excited about the growth in Kokomo. It has so much to offer.” Plantenga says he still skateboards and rides BMX bikes, and praises the city for having three skate parks.

Plantenga’s family also played a role in his decision to stay in Kokomo. Plantenga’s father was a racer, and rode anything from cars to motorcycles and eventually bicycles. He eventually built custom bicycles, giving the younger Plantenga his first experience at spray painting.

“My brother also worked with me for about seven years and really helped grow the business,” Plantenga says.

And his favorite part of the business he’s grown through the last three decades? Taking a passion and turning it into a career – one that he is proud of, yet thinking about stepping away from. He notes, however, that as long as a few of his longtime clients need his work, he’ll be there for them.

“Being able to turn a childhood talent and interest into an actual living and seeing my helmets in action at the track, those are the best parts of my career,” he says. “I’m most proud of staying in business for nearly 30 years at a job that sounds, to most people, like a hobby.”Brad Plantenga

Comments 1

  1. David says:

    A wonderfully written article on Brad Plantenga and his very successful career making people happy with his talents.
    Thank you, most enjoyable.

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