(This story originally appeared as exclusive content on the Verizon INDYCAR Mobile app.)
TRYON, North Carolina – When famed sculptor William Behrends unveiled the full-sized clay rendition of Takuma Sato’s face on Tuesday, the winning driver of the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil took one look at it, pointed and said, “He’s better looking.”
That’s the ultimate compliment for the 71-year-old Behrends, who has sculpted every race on the Borg-Warner Trophy since Arie Luyendyk’s victory in the 1990 Indianapolis 500. Tuesday’s unveiling of the clay rendition was the latest step in the long process that culminates with the unveiling of Sato’s bas relief likeness on the iconic trophy. That will take place Oct. 17 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
That final image is cast in sterling silver and is the size of an egg. It will join the likenesses of every other winner of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on the Borg-Warner Trophy that is synonymous with the Indianapolis 500.
“Amazing work,” Sato told the Verizon INDYCAR Mobile App. “I kind of expected it, but when you see it for real, it’s incredible work. It’s incredible art. It’s weird seeing myself in three-dimension but it’s very good.
“William is an incredible person. We had dinner together last night and to see all his artwork and what we have done together – he’s just a great artist. I can see his details matter and that is fantastic.”
Behrends has been a professional sculptor for 44 years and has made a very comfortable living at art. He has also made the official busts of the U.S. Vice Presidents Spiro Agnew, Al Gore and Dick Cheney. He created five bigger-than-life bronze statues of Giants baseball greats Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry that stand outside the stadium in San Francisco.
He also made the amazing statue of the greatest player in San Diego Padres history, the late, great Tony Gwynn.
Williams’ art studio is in the North Carolina mountains near the South Carolina state line in the Brushy Mountains. Other than occasional visits from black bears, it offers the serenity for Behrends to perform his detailed work.
“I figured out my niche and the type of work that I wanted to do and it has really worked out well,” Behrends said. “I do a low number of things and work on one piece for over a year. By doing this for 44 years, my biggest fear is I’ve got too much to do.”
The Borg-Warner Trophy was first unveiled in 1936 after Louis Meyer’s third Indy 500 win. When Sato’s likeness is added, a total of 104 faces will grace the original trophy and the two bases since added. All are in silver except one – a 24-karat gold portrait of Tony Hulman, who saved IMS when he purchased it in 1945. The facility remains in the Hulman George family’s hands today.
Sato earned the right to have his face added in May, when he drove a flawless race and held off a charging Helio Castroneves to win become the first driver from Japan to win the Indianapolis 500.
“Takuma has a wonderful face,” Behrends said. “I love working on it because he has all the things in a face that sculptors love. He has strong features and cheekbones. This is the first Japanese person I’ve ever made a sculpture of and it was enjoyable.”
Sato’s likeness is the 28th that Behrends has sculpted for the Borg-Warner Trophy. It’s also part of history because Sato’s face will stand the test of time along with the other great drivers who have won the Indianapolis 500.
“It feels incredible,” Sato said. “I still cannot believe we have achieved the biggest pinnacle in racing. I’m really proud to be a part of that.
“We all feel really lucky to have BorgWarner to be part of this. It is incredible. To have that face on the trophy and all of the traditional things with the Indianapolis 500, it is great history and to be part of that is just an incredible feeling.”
Once Sato’s likeness is unveiled next month, there are discussions about taking the Borg-Warner to his homeland in Japan. If it happens, it would be the first time the trophy has been transported outside of the United States.
Sato will receive a personal miniature version – a “Baby Borg” – at the Automotive World Congress News Dinner in Detroit in January. His photo will also be on the Indianapolis 500 ticket in 2018.
“I’m excited and I’m thrilled to live in this life right now,” Sato said. “I can’t wait to see all of them.
“I have really enjoyed the moment but more is coming. This is just the beginning. The trophy is coming and at the end of the year I can’t wait to see the face on the trophy and be part of the club that has won the Indianapolis 500.
“I feel very fortunate.”