TRYON, N.C. – When Takuma Sato won his first Indianapolis 500 in 2017, he was able to celebrate in the bright lights of his hometown of Tokyo.
Sato celebrated his second Indy 500 win in 2020 under the marquee of the Tryon Theatre in a picturesque community located on the North Carolina/South Carolina state line.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver who won the 104th Indianapolis 500 on August 23 was in town for a sculpting session with famed sculptor William Behrends.
Once completed, Sato’s second face will be added to the Borg-Warner Trophy that celebrates every winning driver of the Indy 500.
Sato is the first multi-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 since Dario Franchitti won his third Indy 500 in 2012. The driver he had to beat that day was none other than Sato, who crashed in Turn 1 on the final lap of the race when he drove underneath Franchitti in an attempt to make the race-winning pass.
“The 2020 win for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, made up for 2012,” Sato told NBCSports.com. “Finally, I was able to do it, but it took eight years.”
By winning the Indy 500 two times since 2017, Sato has created a case of double vision for Behrends and BorgWarner, which has sponsored the Borg-Warner Trophy since 1935.
When Sato walked into Behrends’ studio on Oct. 7, and the life-size clay image of Sato’s head was revealed, the driver from Japan gleefully exclaimed, “It’s me again!”
Behrends began sculpting the faces for the Borg-Warner Trophy in 1990 when Arie Luyendyk won the first of his two Indy 500s.
Sato is the seventh different driver that has won the Indy 500 more than once during Behrends’ time with the trophy and the 20th who has multiple Indy 500 wins.
It’s up to Behrends to find subtle ways to make each face of the multiple winners appear different.
“With Helio Castroneves, it was difficult because he was young and it was consecutive years (2001 and 2002), so there wasn’t much noticeable difference in his face,” Behrends told NBCSports.com “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, who also specializes in oversized statues ranging from former vice presidents Spiro Agnew, Al Gore and Dick Cheney to baseball greats such as Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey and Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants, is meticulous in his craft.
He looks for the finest details that represent the expression of his subject.
“Takuma just has a great face,” Behrends explained. “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.
“Dario Franchitti had the buzz cut in 2007, but in 2010 and 2012, he looks similar. There were some differences. There are any number of ways I could do this image. I don’t think once I have done it, that it’s done. There are some differences. If I had to do the same person 10 times, I would hope I could find something different each time.
“There are any number of ways I can do these images. I just do it and then at the end, we’ll see if it shows a little bit different Takuma, if it shows four years that have lapsed.
“But Takuma just has a great face, a face that a sculptor loves. He has great bone structure and a great smile.”
Al Unser, Jr. was Behrends’ first duplicate face when he won the Indy 500 in 1992 for Galles Racing and 1994 for Team Penske.
Luyendyk was next with wins in 1990 and 1997, followed by Castroneves (2001, ’02 and ’09), Franchitti (2007, ’10 and ’12), Dan Wheldon (2005 and ’11), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000 and ’15) and Sato (2017, ’20).
“Arie had a lot of hair in 1990 and a more respectable hairdo in 1997,” Behrends said. “Arie has a good face, too. If you look at those two, I think they are very different, not just the hair, but his face and expression. He is a good example of how it can be the same person and different images.
“This is face No. 31 for me. Sometimes I look back at the faces and see how I evolved. It’s not purposely that I look back to see if I have evolved, but that is what I see. I look at the first one I did of Al Unser, Jr. and that was in the early 1990s.
“My goal is to have it recognizable from a distance so that when it’s in the museum, someone 10 feet away can recognize the driver. At this scale, you have to over-emphasize the expression of joy and the likeness. I think hopefully I’ve gotten better at that over the years.”
For a cook, not every meatloaf turns out the same. For a writer, each story has a different angle or ending.
An artist does not work on an assembly line, so each piece of work is slightly different from the last.
That is why BorgWarner does not use the same image for multiple Indy 500 winners.
“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 BorgWarner Director of Marketing and Public Relations Michelle Collins. “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. Just because it’s only been a few years doesn’t mean we wouldn’t offer that opportunity to them again.
“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.”
The face on the trophy is frozen in time. AJ Foyt’s 1961 image is the way Foyt appeared 59 years ago. Mario Andretti’s 1969 face is the way he looked 51 years ago.
Sato’s 2017 face is only four years old, and it will look a bit different than when his 2020 face is unveiled on the Borg-Warner Trophy sometime over the winter.
“We wouldn’t deprive them of that,” Collins said. “It’s well deserved. Even if it was a back-to-back situation, we would do the same thing. It’s a moment in time and they deserve that.”
Because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020 has become the year of the facemask. Citizens worldwide and athletes have been forced to wear protective facemasks in public to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Was that under consideration for Sato’s second face on the Borg-Warner Trophy?
“That did come up,” Collins admitted. “We did talk about that. I can’t say that we didn’t. A few people brought it up, and we made the decision to not utilize that in the final face that was going to go on the trophy, only because I feel it covers up the look of their face and that is what we are trying to capture at that point in time.
“I’m sure even if we try to forget it, we will never forget 2020. Before the race, we put a checkered face mask on the guy on top of the trophy. That is something we could always play up and do with Takuma’s face this year.
“To me, I felt it was very important to capture the look and essence of his face right now and not cover it up.”
BorgWarner made that decision long before Behrends began crafting Sato’s face.
Good thing because the sculptor would have been against it.
“If there was, I didn’t know about it,” Behrends said. “I would have been against it because after this year I hope we can look back at this year and just forget about it. I wouldn’t want to do it because it would hide some of his best features – that wonderful smile and the real expressive part of his face would be hidden.
“I would have been against it.”
It was just four years ago that Sato got to visit Behrends at his home studio, nestled away in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. His return allowed the sculptor to see Sato’s face through a fresh set of eyes.
“Time has gone past and cosmetically, he will make some changes, but it’s also expression,” Sato said. “He wanted to build that from art from scratch. I understand Will from that and his philosophy. The two faces are similar, but slightly different expressions. That’s kind of fun. It’s a really, really impressive job.
“As an artist, he does an amazing job. It’s more of a soft smile than last time. It might be true because of the time, but both are extremely close to me.
“There is so much detail in Will’s work and that is very impressive. It’s a good thing, for his passion to make this art. Certainly, I’m happy. That is why you can see my face smiling.”
As a sculptor, Behrends is as meticulous with his artwork as an IndyCar driver must be to win the Indy 500.
“It’s perfection, wanting to make the most of it,” Sato explained. “What he is perfecting today is probably only going to reflect less than an inch of the face. But he does every, single detail because it is important for him to have the feeling of that. I respect that and I enjoy having this time with him together.”
The process begins the day after the Indy 500 when Behrends meets with the winning driver and a series of photos are taken for him to create the life-size clay head. The process takes several more important steps before it is eventually a base-relief sculpture cast in sterling silver the size of an egg.
That is the face that is attached to the Borg-Warner Trophy.
For 31 years, Behrends has become a part of Indianapolis 500 history as his work is immortalized on the Borg-Warner Trophy.
“That, I love,” Behrends said. “The fact that I have been able to do this, these many years and put my small mark on the trophy and the history of this race is a special feeling. It’s really a privilege for me and I’m really grateful to be a part of it.
“I feel very privileged.
“I’m the guy they want to see on Monday morning after the race.”
Facts about the Borg-Warner Trophy
- Takuma Sato is the 31st Indianapolis 500 winning image William Behrends of Tryon, North Carolina has sculpted on the Borg-Warner Trophy dating back to Arie Luyendyk in 1990.
- Sato (2020) 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 at IMS in 2017.
- To represent the 1924 Indy 500 the images of co-winners L.L. Corum and Joe Boyer appear on the Borg-Warner Trophy, Corum started the race and was replaced by Boyer on Lap 111.
- To represent the 1941 Indy 500 the images of co-winners Floyd Davis and Mauri Rose appear on the Borg-Warner Trophy, Davis started the race and was replaced by Rose on Lap 72.
- Behrends has sculpted 22 different winning drivers represent 31 wins in the Indy 500. Of the 22 drivers – Luyendyk (2), Unser Jr. (2), Montoya (2), Castroneves (3), Wheldon (2), Franchitti (3) and Sato (2) have more than one win during Behrend’s time creating the sterling silver images:
- Arie Luyendyk – 1990 and 1997
- Rick Mears – 1991
- Al Unser Jr. – 1992 and 1994
- Emerson Fittipaldi – 1993
- Jacques Villeneuve – 1995
- Buddy Lazier – 1996
- Eddie Cheever Jr. – 1998
- Kenny Brack – 1999
- Juan Pablo Montoya – 2000 and 2015
- Helio Castroneves – 2001, 2002 and 2009
- Gil de Ferran – 2003
- Buddy Rice – 2004
- Dan Wheldon – 2005 and 2011
- San Hornish Jr. – 2006
- Dario Franchitti – 2007, 2010 and 2012
- Scott Dixon – 2008
- Tony Kanaan – 2013
- Ryan Hunter-Reay – 2014
- Alexander Rossi – 2016
- Takuma Sato – 2017 and 2020
- Will Power – 2018
- Simon Pagenaud – 2019