Inside the Borg Warner Trophy.
David Turner photo
Several weeks now since the running of the 100th 500 and the Indy Car Championship Season rolls on.A milestone event and one that set all the goals that could be ever asked. Now the focus turns to the battle for the championship and the demanding weeks of racing ahead. Equally demanding is the story of the Borg Warner and the crafting of this famous trophy and I have been lucky enough to get this insight via a good friend of mine and thought it well worth sharing with you all. Curt Cavin from the Star wrote this great insight to the creation of the faces on the trophy they all chase.
Behrends certainly has had his hands on this historic race, which was held for the 100th time on May 29. The famous sports trophy, valued at $3.5 million, has 102 faces. Those lumps of clay go a long way. While so many of those winners know his work, few know him beyond the half-hour they spent with him on the morning after the 500. Only Juan Montoya— last year's winner — has been to Behrends’ glorious, Italian-inspired home/office in these Blue Ridge Mountains. Montoya drove the 90 miles west from Charlotte last fall to see his second likeness coming together.
It was an honor all right –for Montoya. “I couldn't believe it," said the Colombian whose likeness also was done by Behrends in 2000. "It was incredible to see how he does it. He's a really interesting man." Behrends recently turned 70, and he has sculpted long enough not to be star-struck by Montoya, yet he was. Having grown up in Wisconsin listening to the 500 on radio as early as 1963, Behrends knows much of the race’s history, and he waxes eloquently about the many heroes he's come to know.
Behrends has sculpted Rick Mears, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser Jr. twice. He knows how Luyendyk’s hair once flowed and the pronouncement of Gil de Ferran’s jaw. He has studied three of Dario Franchitti’s hairstyles, noted the makeover of Dan Wheldon and tried to differentiate Helio Castroneves from one year to the next. “You have to start from scratch,” he said of sculpting Castroneves first in 2001 and then in 2002. “How does he look different from (ages) 21 and 22? It's part of creating a lasting image of these guys."
Drivers often fret over how their noses are portrayed, but Behrends said Tony Kanaan wasn’t among them. The 2013 race winner wanted it to stand out proportionally, as it really does. “He’s very proud of his nose,” Behrends said, laughing.
Behrends not only knows the nuances of the 18 men he has sculpted, he has studied the other 51 – he excels at polishing behind Tom Sneva’s glasses, for example — and he recognizes each without identification. His favorite from the trophy’s initial batch – drivers who won 500s from 1911 through 1935 – is Fred Frame’s in ’32. “A really nice piece,” he said.
The original trophy was unveiled in 1936 with 24 likenesses, and the original trophy was full of faces after Bobby Rahal won in 1986. That means all of Behrends' work is on the trophy's base, which has enough spaces for the next 19 winners.
Behrends’ work begins within hours of the race’s completion. The driver walks into a room with a chair, a photographer and an all-white background. The goal is to get a 360-degree look at the man behind the helmet. The examination spans about 20 minutes, with Behrends, who is quiet by nature, dropping in questions here and there. Mostly, he observes so as to discern expressive traits. “We size them up pretty good, although sometimes they’re all smiled out and have hat hair,” he said.
Over the next several months, Behrends spends a few hours here and there creating the likeness. In total, he estimates it’s three weeks' worth of detail, but the responsibility is enormous, which explains why he reads almost everything he can about his subject. In 500 history, Behrends’ work is forever. “The pieces are so small you really have to pump up the detail,” he said. “It’s not a caricature, but you have to emphasize features in such a way it’s very distinctive and real.”
BorgWarner commissioned Behrends to do a likeness of Parnelli Jones on the 50th anniversary of the driver’s 1963 500 win, and Behrends might have more work to do since nine of the living winners still lack a Baby Borg (A.J. Foyt has one as an owner, but of course his face isn't on it). “I’d love to do Unser – Bobby or Al — and I'd love to do Foyt,” he said. "I always wished I could have done Mario (Andretti), and I hope one day to be the one who sculpts the first woman to win the race."
The interesting part of all this is that it happens in such a remote part of the country, where Behrends went to high school. From where his workshop stands, he can nearly reach out and touch South Carolina, and the “guests” who show up on his back terrace are bears and bobcats. A couple of hundred yards down the path is where Behrends takes old statue castings. The current collection includes baseball greats Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese.
Every Indianapolis 500 winner should visit to see the fun Behrends has. “I’d do this even if (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) just gave me pit passes,” he said. “But, they actually pay me to do this.”
BORG-WARNER TROPHY FACTS
Designer: Robert J. Hill and Chicago-based Spaulding-Gorham Inc.
Dimensions: Stands 5 feet, 4¾ inches with base.
Weight: 110 pounds.
Value: $10,000 in 1935; $3.5 million today.
Notable: There are 102 faces, including co-winning drivers in 1924 and 1941. In 1987, a 24-karat gold likeness of IMS savior Tony Hulman was added. … The name of 1950 winner Johnnie Parsons is spelled incorrectly (trophy has it Johnny). … 1983 winner Tom Sneva is the only driver wearing glasses. … Each face is cast twice, once for the trophy, and once for the Baby Borg given to the winning driver.