AL PEARCE covers NASCAR for AutoWeek, so when he set out to collect the signatures of every living Formula One champ on the same helmet, he didn't know what to expect. Says Pearce, "I was told they were filthy rich snobs who would not give me the time of day." But to his delight, the 20 F/1 legends were happy to oblige. Pearce has been selling signed helmets for charity for six years; one with all 26 living Indy 500 champs fetched $10,000 from Tony Stewart in 2007. (The money goes to the Victory Junction Gang Camp for children with serious illnesses, founded by Kyle Petty.) Pearce has yet to decide how he'll auction the F/1 helmet but says, "I'd like the number to be $50,000 or $75,000."
Pearce probably could have obtained the signatures by shipping the helmet to each driver, but he was worried about it getting lost in transit. And besides, he wanted to meet the drivers and see the world. His 13-month quest, for which Pearce footed the $5,000 bill, ended with a trip to Brazil to get Nelson Piquet's signature; in all he covered 68,000 miles in eight countries on three continents, with 50 takeoffs and landings, and one car ride—from three-time champ Piquet. ("He got me back to the hotel much faster than the cabbie took getting me to Piquet's place," says Pearce.) Next on the list? "I want the living Super Bowl MVPs to sign a football helmet," he says. "But my wife's rolling her eyes, so we'll see."