A ride with 4-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves on the Borg-Warner Trophy trail
INDIANAPOLIS – From being honored by Indiana Gov. Eric J. Holcomb at the Indiana State Capitol on March 3, to seeing his name in bright lights on the marquee of the Tryon Theater in North Carolina on Dec. 13, four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves has taken quite a ride with the Borg-Warner Trophy.
It was 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay who said an Indy 500 victory is the gift that keeps on giving.
For BorgWarner, the company has made sure there is a surprise at every stop for Castroneves, who became the fourth four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 2021.
BorgWarner commissioned the Borg-Warner Trophy in 1935 and has awarded it annually since 1936 as the permanent trophy featuring every winner of the Indianapolis 500 since the beginning in 1911 (longtime Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman is also on the trophy).
SURPRISING REACTIONS: The touching messages Helio received after his fourth Indy win
Castroneves is one of only four with four faces on the iconic trophy. The others are AJ Foyt (1961, ’64, ’67 and ’77 wins); Al Unser ('70, ’71, ’78, ’87) and Rick Mears ('79, ’84, ’88 and ’91).
NBCSports.com recently tagged along with Castroneves for a behind-the-scenes look at how his face becomes part of the trophy -- from a trip to William Behrends’ studio to the wraps coming off the Borg-Warner Trophy at the Indiana State Capitol.
Here are some highlights from Castroneves’ “Trophy Trail.”
WILLIAM BEHRENDS STUDIO, Dec. 13, 2021
Castroneves arrived on a postcard-perfect day at Behrends’ sculpting studio, which located at his home that overlooks the beautiful mountains and valleys around Tryon, North Carolina. The picturesque community, located in the escarpment of the Blue Ridge Mountains near the South Carolina state line, bills itself as “The Friendliest Town in the South.”
Behrends, a famed sculptor who has been commissioned by BorgWarner to sculpt every face on the trophy beginning with Arie Luyendyk’s first Indy 500 win in 1990, was ready for the next step in the process that had begun the morning after Castroneves won a thrilling 105th Indy 500.
Twenty years after his first Indy 500 victory, Castroneves showed up in the early morning of Memorial Day 2021 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a series of photos shot by BorgWarner and supervised by Behrends, who began working on a life-sized clay head depicting the driver.
Castroneves arrived in Tryon seven months later for a “live study” in the studio of Behrends, who would add further detail.
“All right, Will, so now is the big moment,” Castroneves said to Behrends as the wraps came off the sculpture. “Let’s see how you did now because I believe I’m much better looking than when I was younger. I’m getting older, I’m like wine, better looking.”
The Brazilian reacted with typical hyperbole to the clay.
“Oh, My God – is this Tom Cruise?” Castroneves quipped. “It’s so amazing. This is incredible. My hair looks amazing, too.
“I’m looking at myself. This is weird. This is amazing. Wow. I’m looking at a twin here. This is incredible. I’ve seen the trophy, but this is my head. Great job.
“Man, this is crazy. I like this guy. Will, you are the man.”
Behrends has been commissioned for oversized pieces of former U.S. vice presidents that are displayed in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. He also has created oversize statues outside the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry.
His art on the Borg-Warner Trophy is creating a life-size image, then working it down to the egg-sized casting that is added to the trophy.
Behrends started as a “one-off” with Luyendyk. BorgWarner liked his work so much, he has been doing it ever since. Helio Castroneves’ is the 32nd Indy winner done by Behrends for the Borg-Warner Trophy.
“Guys in the Renaissance used clay,” Behrends said. “They will do a study in clay, then they will do a model and measure it up. On big statues, I do one this size, then one middle size and then the big one. There is a purpose for that. When you work that scale, things change. You don’t know until it gets bigger than you may have missed something.”
Said Castroneves, “I’m glad my face is familiar to you.”
“Not so much over 12 years,” Behrends said, referring to Castroneves’ previous victory in 2009.
Castroneves, who will turn 47 on May 10, won the 2001 Indy 500 as a rookie. Then next year, he became the only driver to win in his first two attempts at the Brickyard. He nearly went three in a row in 2003, finishing 0.299 seconds behind Team Penske teammate Gil de Ferran.
But it would be under the most unusual circumstances that Castroneves would return to victory lane at the 2009 Indianapolis 500.
Instead of racing to start that season, Castroneves was fighting to remain a free man at a Miami federal courthouse while facing U.S. tax evasion charges.
Team owner Roger Penske promised Castroneves his ride back if he were acquitted. In the meantime, a young driver from Australia named Will Power filled in at Team Penske.
Castroneves was acquitted on April 17, 2009, and Castroneves drove to his third Indy 500 win on May 24, 2009.
“In 2001, it was my first oval win so I could do this,” Castroneves recalled. “Before, I had not won on an oval. That was very emotional for me. In 2002, it was back-to-back, and we didn’t have the fastest car. We were about to be one lap down, and then all the chaos that I didn’t know about until after the race. I had no doubt I was leading the race. For me, it was super special for the back-to-back.
“In 2009, I didn’t even start the season that year and didn’t know I would be racing and all of a sudden, I’m in the Winner’s Circle.”
Castroneves came close two more times before his historic win in 2021.
In 2014, he was in a fierce battle with Ryan Hunter-Reay in the closing laps before losing by six hundredths of a second in the second-closest finish in Indy 500 history. In 2017, he was involved in another intense battle with Takuma Sato in the closing laps but lost to the Japanese by 0.201 seconds.
“In 2014, I remember (Penske) got upset with me and said I left the door open,” Castroneves recalled. “I said, ‘R.P., he went through the grass. What do you mean I left the door open? He went through the grass.’ ”
Castroneves believes those two close losses prepared him for the dramatic battle with Alex Palou in the closing laps of the 2021 Indy 500.
“Any time you don’t win a race, it’s tough,” Castroneves said. “Any time you finish second in the Indy 500, especially when you have won before and know how amazing it is, it crushes you. But those three losses helped me win last year. I realized I had to wait until the last moment and that is what really helped me. Those losses turned out to be a good lesson to accomplish No. 4.
“Nobody had us as a contender. All of a sudden, we dominated the way we did. And history, becoming the No. 4 win and joining the Gods of racing. It was absolutely special.”
Behrends had sculpted the face of a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner before when Mears won in 1991, but Castroneves still was a first for the sculptor.
“He is the first four-time winner I’ve gotten to do all four of,” Behrends said. “Rick Mears’ fourth image was the only four-time winner that I did. Helio’s last victory was in 2009, 12 years ago. So, I always like to go back as I did with Juan Pablo Montoya. The span of years in between victories, the face ages. I like to go back, look at the differences, start with a clean sheet of paper and do it all over again.
“This is that but also the thrill of being able to do a four-time winner.”
Over 20 years, even well-conditioned athletes tend to age. What about Castroneves from 2001-21?
“Surprisingly little for 20 years,” Behrends explained. “His face has changed a lot less than mine has over those 20 years. He looks good. He is clearly in shape. He has aged well, but I like to see the way age matures a face and makes it more distinctive. That’s been enjoyable on this one as well.”
BorgWarner began bringing the Indy 500 winner to Behrends’ studio in 2015 when Juan Pablo Montoya won for a second time. Every Indy 500 winner since has made the trip to Tryon, North Carolina, but it was a first for Castroneves despite his previous three faces. He and Behrends met briefly at IMS on the Monday after his other victories.
“I had never spent more than 10 minutes with Helio” at a time, Behrends said. “In those three meetings, we probably spent 30 minutes together. Today, we sat down for a couple hours. We got to talk to and know each other a little bit and that helped me immeasurably in my work.”
After the live study was complete, Castroneves told Behrends, “I hope next year, I’m able to come back here for a fifth face on the Borg-Warner Trophy. You and I have some history together. Thank you for this masterpiece. This is a special experience.”
The day concluded with Helio’s name in lights on the Tryon Theatre marquee, offering congratulations on his fourth Indy 500 victory -- the second year in a row that BorgWarner added that touch to the Indy 500 winner’s visit and perhaps the start of another new Indy 500 tradition.
INDIANA STATE CAPITOL, INDIANAPOLIS, March 3
The Indiana State Capitol was built in 1888 – 31 years before the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened for business in 1909 and 33 years before the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.
Castroneves was on the stage just outside the office of Indiana Gov. Eric J. Holcomb, who is boyhood friends with Tim Cindric, the longtime Team Penske president who was Castroneves’ strategist for his first three Indy 500 wins.
Off to the side sat the magnificent Borg-Warner Trophy. On the base was a covering and underneath was the final part of the long process that began the day after the 2021 Indy 500. It was Castroneves’ fourth face, a sterling silver bas relief image of the driver about the size of an egg.
“This is one of the most historic unveilings of a likeness on the Borg-Warner Trophy we’ve ever had as Helio’s image now appears for the fourth time on this beautiful trophy,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles said. “It’s exciting to get to celebrate something that only A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears have done and place Helio alongside those iconic names. While Helio isn’t from Indiana, he definitely knows what it means to be a Hoosier, and we are proud to stand in the Indiana Statehouse today for this very special occasion.”
“This is a pretty special day and there is no place on the Planet Earth like Indianapolis in May,” Gov. Holcomb said. “We can’t wait to get to the Month of May and Memorial Day and celebrate the Indianapolis 500, especially with Helio’s ‘Drive for Five.’
“I have a strong reason to believe that Helio is not done here. He is not done winning races; he is not done kissing bricks and he is not done climbing the fence. We are so proud to have Helio as part of our family, but as a global ambassador to this sport and to our Hoosier Heritage.”
BorgWarner Inc. Global Director of Marketing and Public Relations Michelle Collins helped Castroneves unveil the image on the trophy that was first commissioned in 1935. “Helio and everyone at Meyer Shank Racing performed flawlessly to put their names atop the record book,” Collins said. “Helio is a wonderful ambassador for the sport, and everyone at BorgWarner is proud to be associated with him. We recognize his greatness and never-ending smile on and off the track.”
Gov. Holcomb also honored Castroneves with the Indiana State Flag that flew over the Indiana State Capitol Building on May 30, 2021 – the day Castroneves won his fourth Indy 500. (Castroneves reciprocated by giving Holcomb a bottle of milk, which has become an iconic part of the Indy 500 winner’s celebration.)
“Wow, that is something very special,” Castroneves said when presented the flag in a special case. “It’s a true testament how much I love this place and what the fans mean to me. This is a perfect example.”
An hour or so after the ceremony concluded, Castroneves sat in a conference room in the basement of the Indiana Governor’s office reflecting on his big day and his long journey. He joke about Behrends taking “some wrinkles away, which is great. But I don’t care how it looks as long as my face is on that trophy.
“It’s like a movie,” Castroneves said. “Here I am, standing in the State House in Indiana when I didn’t know where the United States was when I started racing in Brazil. That is why I was mesmerized today.
“Think about it, the Governor of Indiana giving me the state flag that flew over the State House on the day I won the fourth Indianapolis 500. I’m very, very blessed.”