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Bruce Martin Photo

Pagenaud ‘ecstatic’ after first look at Borg-Warner Trophy (photos)

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TRYON, North Carolina – When the cover came off the life-sized clay sculpture of Simon Pagenaud’s head, it was so life-like, so real that the winner of the 103rd Indianapolis 500 described it as “disturbing.”

“It is certainly disturbing – a little shocking,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports.com. “Imagine seeing yourself on clay like that. You don’t really know until you see it. It’s like seeing two of you. It’s like you are looking at yourself. It’s not like on a photo.

“You see yourself on a photo and you think, ‘I look OK or I look bad.’

“This has expression. It’s almost like it is looking at you. It feels so real, that it’s disturbing. Obviously, I’m ecstatic. The representation seems to me like it’s perfect.

“Certainly, it’s a moment that will be engraved. It will be safe to say I won’t age anymore.”

The clay sculpture of Pagenaud’s head was at famed sculptor William Behrend’s studio nestled away in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in this picturesque community located just a few miles from the North Carolina-South Carolina state line.

Pagenaud, his fiancé, Hailey McDermott and their famed Jack Russell Terrier “Norman,” and Pagenaud’s father from France were part of an entourage that arrived at Behrend’s studio on June 26 – exactly one month after his thrilling victory over Alexander Rossi in the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26.

NBC Sports.com was invited to go along for the ride as Pagenaud sat in on a session where Behrend’s added final details to the “Clay Simon Pagenaud.”

Behrends has been sculpting the face on the Borg-Warner Trophy since Arie Luyendyk won the first of his two Indy 500s in 1990. It’s a long process that begins the day after the race with photos shot of the winning driver. From there, Behrends creates a life-size clay sculpture from the photos, but finer details are added when the Indy 500 winner makes it to his studio.

Once Behrends finishes the clay image, he creates a mold. From that point, the process continues until it is shrunken down to the size of an egg. The final bas relief sterling silver image is cast and then mounted onto the permanent Borg-Warner Trophy.

That is generally unveiled in early December, but this year’s process has been sped up to be ready by early August to help accommodate Pagenaud’s schedule.

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When Pagenaud arrived at Behrends’ studio, the clay head was under wraps. As Behrends slowly unwrapped the head, Pagenaud’s reaction was priceless.

“Here we go,” Pagenaud said. “There it is. Oh hey, ohhhh… Wow. Nice hair. Hair is very important to me. The nose is right, but I need my scar (above his left eyebrow that he received when he raced as an 8-year-old). That’s awesome. It’s like I’m getting a twin. It’s strange. It’s actually strange. It’s not like a picture, it’s like another one of you standing next of you.

“It’s like my ‘Evil Twin.’

“It’s so cool. It’s scary that you can be duplicated.”

Afterwards, Pagenaud described his thoughts to NBC Sports.com.

“It’s amazing work,” Pagenaud said. “It looks just like me. At first, it’s shocking, almost disturbing, because it’s so real. On a photo, you don’t get to see the expression. It’s flattened. But here, it’s in three-dimension. Most people don’t get to see their face in three-dimension with all of the expression and emotion that was going on that day winning the biggest race in the world.

“I’m amazed that someone has that much talent. I’m sure it takes a lot of hard work to get to this point. It truly is an honor to be here.

“This is symbolic to us drivers. It’s the only race where you are privileged to get your face sculpted on this trophy. It’s amazing.”

Behrends is a famed sculptor whose work includes larger-than-life works in the United States Capitol of former Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney and a bust of Vice President Spiro Agnew. At Oracle Park in San Francisco, Behrends created statues of San Francisco Giants greats Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal. He also has similar larger-than-life statues of Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres at Petco Park.

Each one is about 9-1/2 feet tall on 5-foot high granite pedestals.

The face on the Borg-Warner Trophy is much smaller – so small that Behrends has to accentuate the expression of the driver because of its size.

“Simon has a perfect face and image for this type of work,” Behrends told NBC Sports.com. “It’s very distinctive with good lines and everything that a sculptor loves to see with a subject.

“Everything is different about his face. Everybody is unique and that is what a sculptor is looking for. They look for the different bone structure, the different face, the different look. It’s all a completely new project to a sculptor so each of these guys is a unique challenge for me.

“Simon is one that is really a lot of fun. He’s got a great face. A lot of distinctive features. A great smile and a lot of fun to do.”

It was important to Pagenaud that Behrends included the scar that goes through his left eyebrow on the clay image. He received the scar when he was just 8-years-old.

According to the driver, it was a “life-changing moment” and helped him understand all aspects of racing.

“He mentioned that,” Behrends recalled. “I had seen the scar when I saw the photos, I was working from on the clay study. You can see the scar from his eyebrow on his left side. I didn’t know that was a scar. He pointed it out and I’m hoping I can include that in this small sterling image that will go on the Borg-Warner Trophy.”

The sculptor believes Pagenaud’s face displays his personality.

“He has a very spontaneous and expressive face,” Behrends said. “He is a very friendly, and outgoing and warm person. I think that shows in his face.”

When Pagenaud described his feeling as “disturbing” after he saw the clay head looking back at him, did Behrends take that as a compliment or an insult?

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“I’ve heard that from other drivers when they have looked at this,” Behrends said. “I try to get it as accurate and lifelike as possible with the energy and the smile and their look. When you unveil that and see that yourself, not many people have that experience.

“True, it’s clay, but you are looking at an image of yourself looking back at you in three-dimensional. It’s not like looking back in the mirror.”

The Borg-Warner Trophy is one of the most famous trophies in all of sports. It has been part of the Indianapolis 500 Victory Lane ceremony since Louis Meyer won the second of his three Indianapolis 500 wins in 1936.

Pagenaud becomes the fourth driver from France to have his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy joining Jules Goux in 1913, Rene Thomas in 1914 and Gaston Chevrolet in 1920.

The Borg-Warner Trophy accompanied Pagenaud and Team Penske when they were honored at the White House by President Donald Trump on June 10.

“The trophy was right there with us and it was in the Oval Office with us,” Pagenaud recalled to NBC Sports.com “President Trump was very amazed by the trophy and he was very amazed by the race itself. He only had great words for the race. It’s the biggest race in the world, it’s an American race, and as the President of the United States he was very proud of it and amazed at the end.”

Pagenaud’s face will be mounted next to his Team Penske teammate Will Power, who won the Indy 500 in 2018, and below his favorite driver as a youngster, Canada’s Jacques Villeneuve.

The Indy 500 winner thanked Behrends for creating such a “disturbing” image of himself.

“He is immensely talented,” Pagenaud said of the sculptor. “It takes a lot of work. His fascination for faces and the details of faces is incredible. It’s like what we do in racing. It is incredible how much into perfection he wants to be. It’s very proud to meet him and get to know about what he does.

“He is an artist and I have the utmost respect for his talent.”

Graham Rahal’s ‘Weighty Issue’

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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses lasers to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around. There was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“It takes a long time, I think,” Rahal said. “It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is.”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

“It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy.

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (crap), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches, and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”