The Borg-Warner Trophy has been presented in the winner’s circle after every Indianapolis 500 race since 1936. The very large famous trophy is a multi-tiered award which contains the bas-relief (3-D) sculpture of the likeness of each driver who has won the race since its inception in 1911. Along with the sculpted winning driver’s image is the driver’s name, date of victory, and average speed. This information is alternated with the faces in a checkerboard pattern. Included on the base is the gold likeness of Tony Hulman, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1945-1977. The trophy design includes wings of victory “handles” on each side of the trophy to symbolize speed. On the top of the trophy is a man waving a checkered flag. Because this man is depicted naked, after the tradition of ancient Greek athletes, the trophy is most often photographed so that the man’s arm is swooping down in front of him.
The Borg-Warner trophy is made of sterling silver and is just less than 5 feet, 4 inches tall, weighing nearly 153 pounds. The original trophy was designed to display images of the faces of 80 Indy 500 winners. The base from the original has been expanded in order to hold additional winners. This was done most recently in 2004 when space was added to accommodate all winners through the 2034 race. The actual trophy is not given to the winner; it remains at the Hall of Fame Museum at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since 1988, the winner receives an 18-inch (460 mm) tall replica of the trophy, called a “Baby Borg” at a cost exceeding $30,000, during the preparations for the following year’s race. Prior to 1988, winners received a 24-inch upright model of the trophy mounted on a walnut plaque. During the race, the trophy is displayed trackside. When the winner pulls into Victory Lane, the trophy is placed on the rear of the car behind the driver. This tradition dates back to 1911, when Ray Harroun won the race with an average speed of 74.602 miles per hour. The unique tradition, of handing the winner a bottle of milk at race end, along with the trophy presentation, continues today.
In 1935, U.S. automotive supplier, the BorgWarner Automotive Company, commissioned designer Robert J. Hill to create the Borg-Warner Trophy at a cost of $10,000. The trophy was refurbished in 1991 and again in 2004 to create space for additional winners. Today the trophy is valued in excess of $1.5 million dollars! Unveiled at a 1936 dinner hosted by then-Speedway owner Eddie Rickenbacker, the trophy was officially declared the annual prize for Indianapolis 500 victors. Louis Meyer, was that year’s champion and its first recipient.
Prior to the inaugural 1936 Borg-Warner Trophy was the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy, which was awarded from 1911 through 1935. The trophy was named after Frank Wheeler, one of the Speedway’s four original founders, and George Schebler, one of the two partners in a carburetor company that merged into a group that formed BorgWarner in 1928. The founding organizations were Borg & Beck, Warner Gear, Marvel-Schebler and Mechanics Universal Joint.
The Borg-Warner Indianapolis 500 Trophy is synonymous with top performances, speed and leading-edge automotive technology.
Some Memorable moments:
The trophy has had quite a history. The Indy track historian has noted a particular story where a Butler University student was given the trophy to watch in the 1930s before race day. The young frat student hid the trophy under his bed one night and proceeded to have a night out. Upon his return to his fraternity house, the man found the trophy missing. Frantically looking for the “lost” trophy, he went looking in the frat house’s basement. He found the trophy surrounded by his frat brothers drinking beer out of it. 115 beers were inside the trophy. After emptying the beer, the smell of beer stayed with the trophy. To solve this problem prior to the race, he decided to take a shower – taking the trophy in with him!
For over forty years, 1950 Indianapolis 500 winner Johnnie Parsons’ name was misspelled on the trophy as Johnny Parsons (which is how his son spelled his name when he raced in USAC and CART), an error that was corrected during the 1991 restoration of the trophy.
Eight drivers have won the BorgWarner trophy twice: Tommy Milton; Bill Vukovich; Rodger Ward; Gordon Johncock; Emerson Fittipaldi; Al Unser, Jr.; Arie Luyendyk and Helio Castroneves. There are five, three-time winners: Louis Mayer; Wilbur Shaw; Mauri Rose; Bobby Unser; and Johnny Rutherford. And, three, four-time winners: Al Unser, Sr.; Rick Mears; and A.J. Foyt.