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The Borg-Warner Trophy

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For 11 months a year, it pays tribute to many of the most revered drivers in auto racing history. During the month of May, however, it becomes the focal point ofdreams and aspirations for more than 33 drivers, a reminder of the glory and tradition associated with winning the fabled Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. And on just one day each year, it is awarded to the newest champion of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

It is the Borg-Warner Trophy, one of the most coveted trophies in the world of sports, awarded annually to the champion of the Indianapolis 500.

With the capture of the checkered flag at the Indianapolis 500 comes the honor of having one’s face sculpted onto the 68-year-old trophy. Separate squares are affixed to its sterling-silver body, on which each winner’s face, name and winning year are permanently etched.

In 1935, the Borg-Warner Automotive Company commissioned designer Robert J. Hill and Gorham, Inc., of Providence, R.I., to create the trophy at a cost of $10,000. The trophy was refurbished in 1992 and today is valued at more than $1million.

Unveiled at a 1936 dinner hosted by then-Speedway owner Eddie Rickenbacker, the Borg-Warner Trophy was officially declared the annual prize for Indianapolis 500 victors. It was first presented that same year to champion Louis Meyer, who remarked, “Winning the Borg-Warner Trophy is like winning an Olympic medal.”

Today, 90 faces grace the trophy’s squares. The faces date back to Ray Harroun, winner of the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, and include two sets of dual victors (one driver started the race and the other finished it) for 1924 and 1941. Four-time champions A.J. Foyt (1961, ‘64, ‘67, ‘77), Rick Mears (1979, ‘84, ‘88, ‘91) and Al Unser (1970, ‘71, ‘78, ‘87) are the only drivers to have their faces appear more than three times on the trophy. Mears is the only one of those three to have a new likeness rendered for each of his four victories. Tom Sneva (1983) is the only champion who appears on the trophy wearing his eyeglasses, by his request.

Besides displaying Indianapolis 500 champions, the trophy features a 24-karat gold head portrait of the late Speedway Owner and President Anton “Tony” Hulman in tribute to his rejuvenation of the track and the Indianapolis 500 after World War II. Hulman’s image was added in 1988.

A silversmith is commissioned each year to create the new champion’sportrait/sculpture in bas-relief for placement on the trophy. Since 1991, an 18-inch tall replica of the trophy, a “Baby Borg,” has been crafted in sterling silver for presentation to the champion. A new tradition began with the 1997 winner as BorgWarner also presented the winning car owner with a “Baby Borg.”

Each May, the Borg-Warner Trophy is featured at a number of Indianapolis 500 events, including the drivers’ meeting at the track and the 500 Festival Parade in downtown Indianapolis, both on the day before the race. Immediately after each race, the trophy is hoisted into Victory Circle with the winning car and driver for photographs.

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INDIANAPOLIS 500 MILE RACE TROPHY

The English are fairly oblivious to racing outside their little island apparently. Here is a humorous article from an English rag upon Dan Wheldon's 2005 Indy 500 victory.

Indy winner
WHEN they say that the Indianapolis 500 is one of the biggest prizes in motor sport, they’re not kidding. As this week’s pictures of Dan Wheldon, the hitherto unremarked British driver who fabulously covered himself in glory at this year’s Indy 500, firmly reminded us, the Borg-Warner Trophy is one of the biggest prizes in sport, full stop. For successfully skimming round America’s most famous oval circuit for 500 miles at the kind of speeds normally achieved in this country only by off-duty policemen, Wheldon found himself adjacent to a lump of silverware so vast that it mocks the very idea of a mantelpiece.

Now, when it comes to trophies, motor racing has always been ready to nudge the boundaries of unwieldiness. One thinks of Formula One, with its silver-plated wheelie bins and metallic paddling pools. But the Borg-Warner goes the extra mile. It appears to have been snapped off the back end of a cathedral and, with the fairly straightforward addition of a door, could easily be converted into walk-in storage for garden tools.

Research indicates that this is just about the only trophy in world sport that stands as tall as the person likely to win it – and that’s including the prizes on offer in horse racing, where the odds on that kind of thing happening are, obviously, shorter. Sportspeople being human, it’s implausible that the sight of Wheldon cavorting near this shiny monument won’t have caused a nationwide outbreak of that familiar phenomenon: trophy envy. Even Steven Gerrard, who was so recently privileged enough to claim ownership of the European Cup — not exactly a shy trophy itself — must have spent at least a moment thinking to himself, “but look what that other guy got”.

Wheldon is the first British winner of the Indianapolis 500 since Graham Hill in 1966. So, in a sense, the Borg-Warner Trophy is coming home. Or, at least, it would be if the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ever let the thing out of its sight. (It was commissioned for Indianapolis in 1936 by the Borg-Warner Automotive company and since it was reconditioned, in 1992, it has been valued at $1 million.) Instead, Wheldon walked away with a considerably more portable 18-inch replica, a “mini-Borg”, which winning drivers have received since 1989. But that’s probably just as well. Since September 11, there isn’t an airline in the world that would accept an item such as the Borg-Warner Trophy as carry-on luggage.

Our understanding is that the trophy breaks down into at least three separate stages, not unlike the rockets that carried men to the moon all those years ago. You’ve got the domed top section, capped with the figure of a marshal wielding the chequered flag. (More than that, an apparently naked marshal, and you don’t see too many of those these days, what with the general tightening of safety measures.) Below comes the vast cup area, with its thrillingly implausible handles forming a track-style motif that is almost broad enough to drive on, and with its body barnacled with the busts of previous champions, each one the size of a clenched fist. Beneath that, doing the hard work of supporting the structure, is the knee-high circular plinth, again gargoyled with previous winners and soon to include the head of Wheldon. But even with the trophy disassembled, the would-be exporter would have little option but to crate and ship.

By Giles Smith
The Times
June 4, 2005

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