In his 30th year of creating the face of the Indianapolis 500 winner on the Borg-Warner Trophy, sculptor William Behrends has seen the look of amazement in the eyes of that year’s winner the first time they see themselves in a life-size clay image.
Behrends, though, was surprised by Simon Pagenaud’s reaction.
Pagenaud, who won the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 26, saw an image of himself so amazingly lifelike, he was actually “disturbed” by it.
“It’s the first time I ever saw myself in 3-D like that,” Pagenaud said at Behrends’ studio in Tryon, North Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came here, but it is certainly disturbing, a little shocking. You are looking at yourself in clay like that, and you don’t really know what it’s like until you see it.
“When you see it, it’s like seeing two of you. It’s like seeing yourself looking at yourself. It’s not like a photo where you either look OK or look bad; this has expression. It’s like it is looking back at you. It feels so real.”
“I’m ecstatic. It seems to me like it is perfect. Will is working on details, because he sees more. It’s certainly a moment that will be engraved.
“It’s safe to say I won’t age anymore.”
Pagenaud’s life has been in top gear ever since he won the 103rd Indianapolis 500. One month later, Pagenaud saw his face that will be frozen in time.
It’s Pagenaud’s “Ponce de Leon” moment when he discovered the “Fountain of Youth.”
“For a race car driver, this is like a writer,” Pagenaud said. “It’s your book. It’s going to stay. That is why this race is so important. Your image, the way you looked when you won, is going to stay forever on that legendary trophy. It’s very special.
“The attention and the detail Indianapolis Motor Speedway goes through for its winners is amazing.
“Second, I’m glad because my fiancée, (Hailey McDermott) says I look better now than I ever did before.
Behrends has been sculpting the face on the Borg-Warner Trophy since Arie Luyendyk earned the first of his two Indy 500 victories, 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 in this beautiful area on the North Carolina-South Carolina state line off Interstate 26.
Once Behrends finishes the clay image, he creates a mold. From that point, it is shrunken until 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.
Pagenaud’s reaction Wednesday was similar to that of other drivers, but never more expressive.
“No one has been more startled by it than Simon,” Behrends said. “He was as surprised and stunned by that as anybody I’ve ever seen. It really was genuine for him.
“I’ve heard that from other people, other drivers, when they have looked at this. I’ve tried to get it as accurate as possible and as lifelike as possible with their energy, smile and look. When they unveil that and see that for themselves, true, it is clay, but you are looking at a three-dimensional image looking back at you.
“His reaction is typical of his personality. Simon is a very expressive guy.”