“There’s a lot of perks that they don’t tell you about,” muses 2023 Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden from poolside at sculptor Will Behrends’ studio in North Carolina.
The perk in question is a friendship bracelet that’s just been presented to the Team Penske driver by Behrends’ granddaughters. “It’s shell-colored,” Newgarden says. “It says ‘winner’ on it; that’s cool. Kind of reminds us why where here.”
The reason he’s there of course is for one of the perks that they do tell you about. Winning the Indy 500 means having your likeness added to the Borg Warner Trophy, and the first step in that process is having Behrends craft that likeness, as he has done for every winner since 1990.
“He’s a wonderful model,” Behrends said of Newgarden. “Great face, strong features, good bone structure. And a very expressive face too. He’s an idea subject for a sculpture like this.
“I’ve been doing portrait sculpture for a long time, so representing the drivers’ features is a little bit on the technical side of the skill, the craft side. But doing these images has really become more fun as the years have gone by. Especially since 2015, when the winning drivers started coming here to the studio and doing a sitting. Before that I just had 20 minutes with them the morning after the race, and that was really it. The rest was from photographs. And you don’t really get much of a sense of person in that short a time. But now they come here, I can spend the day with them, chat with them, and it makes it much more enjoyable because they’re all very interesting people and it makes a better product. I think I do a better job.”
For Newgarden, the portrait sitting is the first big step in the second phase of the Indianapolis 500 victory celebrations. The first phase comes immediately after the race, and drivers are given a couple of days to savor winning one of motorsport’s biggest events before they need to reset to race again the next weekend. But for this part of the process, Newgarden can take the time to appreciate everything more fully.
“It’s nice to focus on this after the season,” he said. “It’s tough when you leave the Month of May; there’s still a lot to be done, and for me, I wanted to buckle down and focus on the championship, and try not to rest on the victory at the Speedway. We tried to do that; it didn’t fully work out obviously, and we had a tough end to the year. But there were still a lot of positives. When we enter the season every year, the first goal is to win the Indianapolis 500. That’s the first thing you look to achieve, and to be able to do that made it a really gratifying and tremendous year.
“I’ve gotten to that point where it’s definitely now fun to reflect and enjoy what we were able to do. It’s really special. It’s kind of like winning the race – you think you kind of know what it’s like, but you really have no idea. It’s like trying to explain to people what the Indy 500 is like if they haven’t been there in person – unless you’ve been there, you don’t understand. This is kind of in the same vein as all of that. I knew a little bit about this [sculpting] process, and a little bit about Will, and I’ve seen other drivers come out here, but you just don’t fully appreciate it until you get to do it yourself.”