TRYON, N.C. - Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato is a national treasure in his home country of Japan. He has experienced the bright lights of his home city of Tokyo, especially after his first Indy 500 win in 2017 when he had a chance to return to Japan.
On Oct. 7, Sato’s name was once again shining the bright lights. This time it was on the Tryon Theatre marquee in the picturesque mountain community located near the North Carolina-South Carolina state line in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In many ways, this is a town reminiscent of Mayberry, North Carolina, the fictious town that was featured on “The Andy Griffith Show.” It’s a friendly community where people still wave hello at each other. Its main street has a variety of small-town shops, some featuring a candy counter.
As dusk began to fall on Tryon, the Tryon Theatre marquee was lit up with the words “Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, BorgWarner Congratulates 2020 Indy 500 Winner Takuma Sato.”
Sato, the winning driver of the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Aug. 23, arrived to see his name in lights. He was dressed in his racing firesuit that he wears in competition in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The famed Borg-Warner Trophy was placed on the street in front of the movie house, and Sato posed for photos, including one with an officer of the Tryon Police Department.
A few of Sato’s fans heard about his appearance and arrived early to meet him. One was wearing a Mi-Jack Racing Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing shirt. Another fan was wearing a BAR-Honda Formula One shirt from 2004, during Sato’s tenure with that F1 team.
It’s not often the bright lights and big names come to Tryon. This is a community where people come to get away from it all, the hustle and the bustle. It features a picturesque golf course nestled away in a mountain valley.
The locals are a mixture of retirees and artists.
One of those artists is sculptor William Behrends.
He is part of Indianapolis 500 history as the man who creates the face of the winning driver of the Indy 500 that is placed on the Borg-Warner Trophy.
Behrends has served in that prized role since 1990. His first face was Arie Luyendyk, who won the first of his two Indy 500s that year. Luyendyk won it again in 1997, and Behrends sculpted a second face that year.
Sato is the 31st Indianapolis 500 winning image that Behrends has sculpted and the first duplicate winner for Behrends since Dario Franchitti’s third face was added to the trophy in 2012.
Sato will be the 107th image added to the Borg-Warner Trophy. Tony Kanaan was the 100th face on the trophy in 2013 and Sato was the 104th face after his first win in the Indy 500 in 2017.
Behrends has sculpted 22 different winning drivers representing 31 wins. Those include multiple winners Luyendyk (1990, ’97), Al Unser Jr. (1992, ’94), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000, 2015), Helio Castroneves (2001, ’02, ’09), Dan Wheldon (2005, ’11), Franchitti (2007, ’10, ’12) and Sato (2017, ’20).
It was just three years ago when Sato arrived at Behrends’ studio to have his face sculpted in a life-size clay image. It’s an important step in the process that is ultimately reduced to the sterling silver face that size of an egg that is mounted to the Borg-Warner Trophy.
Back in 2017, when the wraps were taken off Sato’s clay head, the driver exclaimed, “Look, it’s me!”
This time, the cover came off Sato’s second clay head, and the two-time Indy 500 winner said, “It’s me again!”
When a driver wins the Indy 500 more than once, he gets a different face each time. As an artist, Behrends has the difficult task of capturing the differences in the driver’s face from one winning year to the next.
“With Helio Castroneves, it was difficult because he was young and it was consecutive years, so there wasn’t much noticeable difference in his face,” Behrends explained. “This year, I did Takuma in 2017 and I have that life-size image that I did for him on the high shelf in my studio, but I haven’t even taken it down. I haven’t even looked at that and started this one as if I had never done him before.
“I have yet to take that one down and compare the two, but how different they are, it’s something I don’t know yet.”
Behrends’ goal when he creates a face on the trophy is to make it recognizable from a distance, so when the Borg-Warner Trophy is in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, someone 10 feet away can recognize the driver.
“At this scale, you have to over-emphasize the expression of joy and the likeness,” Behrends said. “I think hopefully I’ve gotten better at it over the years.
“Takuma has a great face. He has a face a sculptor loves because he has good, strong bone structure and a great smile. He smiles with his entire face.
“He’s a good image to do.”
The Borg-Warner Trophy is an important connection to the Indianapolis 500. It was commissioned in 1935 to honor the winner of the Indianapolis 500, but the 24 faces of the drivers who had already won the race were part of the trophy when it debuted in 1936.
Since then, each driver gets his face added to the trophy to commemorate the year that he or she won the Indy 500. The only face on the trophy of a non-driver is Tony Hulman, the man who saved the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 when he purchased the track in 1945.
Hulman’s face is the only one in gold.
It’s important to BorgWarner to give the winning driver a different face each time that driver wins the Indy 500.
“One of the questions I’ve been surprised to get quite a bit from people is, ‘Oh, since it’s only been three years since he last won, are you going to reuse the same face?’” said Michelle Collins, BorgWarner director of marketing and public relations. “Just because it’s a repeat winner and it’s been a few years doesn’t mean we would pull from the same archives and stick the same face on there.
“They still deserve what we want to offer them in terms of having them visit with Will. And just in the matter of just a few years, there can be some significant changes to a face. Maybe a little bit more age or a different hairstyle. It’s very important for us to recognize that. It’s still very special.
“Also, because it is Takuma, we have a location in Japan where the colleagues are very excited. This dovetails to all of our locations, but it’s something very special to them.”
As Sato sat out on the deck of Behrends’ house and enjoyed a picture-perfect sunny October day in the mountains of North Carolina, he said this experience is one of his favorite moments of winning an Indy 500.
“It’s nice to see his art again,” Sato said of Behrends. “It’s more of a soft smile than last time. There is so much detail in Will’s work, and that is very impressive. He has done this superb job, and everybody seems to be really happy.
“BorgWarner does a tremendous job, and we would be happy to come back here any time.”