TRYON, N.C. – Helio Castroneves and famed sculptor William Behrends are forever linked in a unique piece of Indianapolis 500 history.
In 1991, Behrends created the egg-sized bas relief image cast in sterling silver of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears. But it was another sculptor that created the images of Mears following his first Indianapolis 500 win in 1979, his second in 1984 and his third in 1988.
Behrends became the sculptor for the Borg-Warner Trophy in 1990 and his first face on the trophy was Arie Luyendyk. Behrends has been doing it ever since.
Behrends has sculpted all four faces for Castroneves on the Borg-Warner Trophy for his Indianapolis 500 victories in 2001, ’02, ’09 and ’21.
On Dec. 13, Castroneves came to Behrends’ studio in Tryon, N.C., just a few miles from the North Carolina/South Carolina state line.
Castroneves spent several hours in a live study sculpting session as Behrends sculpted intricate details of the winner’s face in the life-size clay head of Castroneves’.
It’s a key step in the process that will ultimately be the sterling silver face that will be permanently attached to the Borg-Warner Trophy.
“It’s incredible to be part of history and now Will Behrends will be part of history,” Castroneves told SPEED SPORT. “You can see him on his line of fire. I had no idea how many levels you have to go through. Even today, sitting down there for a few hours, he will still go for many more hours to cover the details that the picture doesn’t.
“We don’t know how much work goes on behind, we just assume you take a picture, make some drawings and then sculpt it, but there is much more than that.”
Behrends is one of the top sculptors in the world with some impressive commissions, including oversized pieces of former United States Vice Presidents that are displayed in the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. He has also created oversize statues of some of the greatest players in San Francisco Giants history outside of their ballpark, including Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry.
His process for creating the faces on the Borg-Warner Trophy involves creating a life-size image, then working it down to the egg-sized casting that is added to the trophy.
“Helio is the first four-time winner I’ve gotten to do all four of,” Behrends said while sitting in the living room of his mountain residence. “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, who won his first in 2000 and his second in 2015. 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.”
Castroneves turned 46 on May 10, but continues to display a boyish, youthful appearance. In many ways, the changes in his face from 2001 to 2021 have been subtle, according to Behrends.
“Surprisingly little for 20 years,” Behrends said. “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.”
SPEED SPORT got to spend the day with Castroneves at Behrends’ studio and observe the process and the interaction between the winner and the artist.
“All right, Will, so now is the big moment,” Castroneves said as the moment came to unveil his latest likeness. “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.”
With that, Behrends took off the wraps and there was Castroneves’ likeness, complete with his trademark smile and perfectly coifed hair.
“Oh, My God – is this Tom Cruise?” Castroneves asked when he looked the sculpture. “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. That is awesome. Will, you are the man.”
Behrends took time to describe the process and his art to Castroneves, who on May 30 performed his own masterpiece by artfully racing against Alex Palou to become the fourth four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.
Castroneves is the 32nd Indianapolis 500 winner for Behrends. In three more years, he will have sculpted a third of all the faces that are on the Borg-Warner Trophy.
“I’m glad my face is familiar to you,” Castroneves quipped.
“You haven’t changed much over the last 12 years,” Behrends said, referring to the last time he sculpted Castroneves’ face for his third Indianapolis 500 win in 2009.
Among the topics the two discussed, Behrends told Castroneves how it all began to work on smaller images for the Borg-Warner Trophy.
“There was a lot of learning because I had never done something that small,” he explained. “When the Borg-Warner Trophy is on display, most people aren’t able to get close enough to get a good look at it.
“There have probably been four or five people that have done every face since 1911 when the trophy began in 1934. In 1989, they came up with the idea to have a different sculptor every year. They didn’t think the differences in the images would be good, so they asked me to do it every year.
“I start off big and then work small. I can go quicker by using memory. When I’m doing something like this, you build it up and then boil it down. That is what this clay head helps me do. It helps get me to where I want to go.
“In that scale, you have to emphasize key features on the face.
“The first one was Arie Luyendyk. It was challenging because he was the first one, but also, he had hair. I went with the hair, and it was unlike anything else on the trophy. It was common back then, but it wasn’t on the Borg-Warner Trophy. They had helmets on when Mario Andretti won in 1969 and then we went to Arie with the long hair.”
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