IRL: Borg-Warner Trophy Has Long, Colorful History of Excellence
8 April 1998INDIANAPOLIS -- The Borg-Warner Trophy, the world's most renowned motorsports victory award, could file for Social Security this year, but at 62 it is racing along handsomely toward the next century.
It started as a $10,000 trophy presented to Louis Meyer, winner of the 1936 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. Today, as the 82nd Indy on May 24 rapidly approaches, this venerable sterling silver prize coveted by most of the world's greatest race drivers is valued at $1.5 million.
And for the 57 drivers -- 15 more than once -- who have their likenesses embossed on the trophy, it is worth a thousand times that. Think of the human generations that have come and gone since 1911 and then realize only this tiny handful of speed demons has been able to take the checkered flag at Indy and earn the true "Oscar" of the auto racing world.
Actually, the winning driver does not retain ownership of the Borg-Warner Trophy since, except for occasional outside promotion appearances, it remains on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. However, beginning in 1989 the Indy champ has been presented a replica valued at $25,000 -- 2 1/2 times the cost of the original -- affectionately called the "Baby Borg." It weighs 5 pounds, stands 14 inches high and rests on a beveled black marble base. On the base is a sterling silver image of the driver's face, an exact duplicate of the one placed on the primary trophy.
On April 9 at the 1998 New York International Auto Show, 1997 Indianapolis 500 champion Arie Luyendyk will be presented his second "Baby Borg." Making the presentation will be Borg-Warner Automotive chairman and chief executive officer John F. Fiedler. Luyendyk won his first in 1990 when he drove to victory with an average speed of 185.981 mph, fastest in history. Last year he averaged 145.827 in his Wavephore/Sprint PCS/Miller Lite/Provini G Force/Aurora/Firestone.
Fiedler also will unveil the new Borg-Warner Automotive Award, also a replica of the Indy trophy, that will be presented each year to the winning car owner as recognition of his role in the victory. The first recipient will be Luyendyk's car owner Fred Treadway. Ron Hemelgarn, owner of Buddy Lazier's 1996 winning car, also will receive a trophy.
The birth of the Borg-Warner Trophy also occurred in New York City. It was there on Feb. 17, 1936, that Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, introduced the Borg-Warner Trophy as replacement for the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy, presented each year to the leader after 400 miles. The Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Co. later became the Marvel-Schebler Products Division of Borg-Warner. The L. Straus & Co. Trophy was given to the winner each year from 1919 to 1935.
The original trophy was 4 feet tall, had spaces for 70 drivers and sat atop an 18-inch high marble base. It weighed approximately 80 pounds.. Standing above the dome of the cup was an unclothed flagman waving a checkered flag, the symbol of victory.
The original trophy was designed and made by Spaulding & Co., a Chicago jewelry firm. An American sculptor, Will Behrends, has cast the busts in recent years. The trophy then is returned to the Speedway. This year it was unveiled with Luyendyk's second likeness in January. He had long hair in the first one, short in the second.
Along with the trophy, the winning driver in 1936 also received $100 per month until the next May. This was a considerable payout considering that Meyer's winning purse that year was only $17,000. Today, the winning driver receives $130,000, plus a bonus if he becomes a winner in consecutive years.
"It meant a lot then,'' once said June Meyer, Louis Meyer's wife. "Anything was good then."
In 1941, the faces of a second pair of co-winners were added to the trophy when Mauri Rose assumed the driving duties from Floyd Davis on Lap 72 and brought the car from 12th place to victory. The initial co-winners were L.L. Corum and Joe Boyer in 1924.
The Trophy was placed in storage through World War II and reappeared in 1946 when the race resumed after Tony Hulman purchased the Speedway from Rickenbacker for $750,000. The next year, Borg-Warner started a new tradition of bringing in a movie star to kiss the winner in Victory Lane.
Carol Landis planted the first official smooch on Mauri Rose's lips. Then Landis was to present the trophy to Rose, but the bearers had sat it down and leaned it against Rose's car. He shouted at them to remove it from his new, but oil-stained, car.
"See where you scratched it?" he exclaimed.
Rose returned to Victory Lane for a third time in 1948, and Barbara Britton handled the kissing duties. Following Britton and Rose until the ceremony ended in 1959 were: Linda Darnell and Bill Holland; Barbara Stanwyck and Johnnie Parsons; Loretta Young and Lee Wallard; Arlene Dahl and Troy Ruttman; Jane Greer and Bill Vukovich; Marie Wilson and Vukovich; Dinah Shore and Bob Sweikert; Virginia Mayo and Pat Flaherty; Cyd Charisse and Sam Hanks; Shirley MacLaine and Jimmy Bryan, and Erin O'Brien and Rodger Ward.
The year 1953 was noteworthy in that Jack Mackenzie, a 6-foot, 5-inch basketball player at Butler University, was hired by Speedway public relations director Al Bloemker to be in charge of the trophy during the month. A one-year assignment turned into 30. He got the job because he knew Bloemker's daughter, Skip, who also was a Butler student.
"I didn't have any idea what the Borg-Warner Trophy was," said Mackenzie, now a retired biology teacher at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis. "It was popular, but I didn't pay that much attention to it."
Mackenzie went to Bloemker's office. Bloemker pointed to the Trophy standing in the corner and said, "I don't want to mess with it." It was the first qualification day so Mackenzie put an old Army blanket over the it and hauled it out into the pits with no idea where to sit it. He placed it on the retaining wall and then found an old oil drum and that became the base. He did put a piece of cloth atop the drum to make it look better.
After qualifications ended that day, Mackenzie took the Trophy to his Sigma Nu fraternity house and sat it in his room, which he shared with fellow basketball player Norm Ellenberger, now an assistant coach under Bob Knight at Indiana University. Jack quickly departed on a date.
When he returned several hours later the most famous trophy in motorsports was missing.
"I knew somebody was hiding it as a joke," he recalled, many years later.
Mackenzie walked down to the recreation room, and there stood the trophy. The cover with the flagman had been removed, and the trophy that someday would be worth $1.5 million was filled with beer (it'll hold 48 cans). Jack's main concern was that when he returned it to the special oil can resting spot at the Speedway on Sunday someone might question him about the beer smell that permeated from it. No one did.
The Borg-Warner Trophy became a regular May centerpiece for Sunday brunch at the Sigma Nu House.
One rainy day Mackenzie carried the trophy into the aging pagoda at the Speedway. He stepped on a rotting board and fell through, but someone grabbed the trophy before it was damaged. Mackenzie suffered some scratches on his leg. Another time he protected the flagman from the rain with his daughter's Barbie doll raincoat and umbrella.
Mackenzie's only Victory Lane instructions in the early days were to sit the trophy on the back of the car. In 1956, the people swarming around the winning car shoved him right into the redhot exhaust pipes, ruining a pair of pants and burning his leg. In 1966, somehow the interview announcer's cord got wrapped around Mackenzie's leg. The announcer jerked the cord hard so he could reach the driver, and pictures taken that day show this mysterious leg sticking up in the air. It was Jack's. Most of the time it was his face that always appeared in the background of the photos.
In 1969 when Mario Andretti won his only 500 and car owner Andy Granatelli gave his driver a huge smooch in Victory Lane, Mackenzie sat the Trophy on the rear of the engine. In about 10 minutes the trophy was a sizzling 150 degrees and he had to get a pair of asbestos gloves from a fireman to lift it off.
In the 1970s, when the price of silver jumped dramatically, Mackenzie carried a gun, fearing someone might try to steal the trophy. Another year he had the trophy in his car trunk while stalled in the line of traffic leading into the track. The engine in the car behind his caught fire and flames were shooting under the rear of his car. Just at that moment, the entrance to the tunnel opened and he was asked for his tickets. Instead, Mackenzie stomped on the throttle and drove right on in.
Mackenzie's daughter once saved Borg-Warner much embarrassment. He had the trophy at his home and she was showing it to her friends. They looked at the bust of the latest winner, which in 1967 was A.J. Foyt, and then told her dad the likeness didn't seem to be Foyt's. He checked it out and quickly recognized the bas relief as that of Rodger Ward. So he wrote Borg-Warner, and it was changed for the next year.
In 1986, the 70 slots on the Trophy were filled, so a new base was created where additional winner castings could be installed. Those spaces will run out in 2003.
The Borg-Warner Trophy has gone from an unglorious spot atop an oil drum to a position of honor trackside each May and a ride aloft on the Victory Lift. It probably is the most photographed and recognized trophy in the world. Thirty-three drivers, none born when it became a part of Indy's rich history, will chase after victory on May 24 with hopes of adding their likeness onto this trophy of all trophies.
The Borg-Warner Trophy is not getting older, it's getting more cherished.