#TBT: Classic Borg-Warner Trophy photos

Published On December 4, 2014 » 2990 Views» By John Schwarb » #TBT, Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500, Photography

This week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Indianapolis 500 victory truly became official.

Sure, it was official when he crossed the Yard of Bricks in May just ahead of Helio Castroneves and drank the milk. But as any “500” champion will tell you, the reality sets in when your likeness is added to the Borg-Warner Trophy.

“This makes it all sink in right here, seeing my face on this trophy,” Hunter-Reay said on Wednesday during an unveiling ceremony at the IMS Hall of Fame Museum. “It’s amazing.”


Amazing indeed. Here on The Blog, all the trophy talk got us nostalgic for a Borg-Warner Trophy edition of Throwback Thursday.

The trophy was commissioned by the Borg-Warner Automotive Company (now BorgWarner) in 1935, then in 1936 the Borg-Warner Trophy was first unveiled at a celebratory dinner hosted by IMS owner Eddie Rickenbacker. Louis Meyer, who won his third “500” that year, is shown here examining his face on the trophy – just like Hunter-Reay on Wednesday night.


It’s not often that you see multiple drivers milling around the Borg-Warner, since of course it’s only won by one driver per year. Or perhaps it’s superstition? But at the 1973 prerace drivers meeting, five greats were happy to pose – no superstition here considering they owned the previous six “500” titles. (You can probably name all five but can you name their winning years without looking at the caption?)

Before the 1973 "500", the winners of the previous six races gathered: Mario Andretti (1969), Al Unser ('70-'71), Mark Donohue ('72), Bobby Unser ('68), A.J. Foyt ('67).

Before the 1973 “500”, the winners of the previous six races gathered: Mario Andretti (1969), Al Unser (’70-’71), Mark Donohue (’72), Bobby Unser (’68), A.J. Foyt (’67).

Notice how the trophy has space for more faces? If you’re a younger race fan, you might only know the Borg-Warner in its current state, with the main section filled to capacity and a base with room for more champions through 2034. Hunter-Reay is No. 101 on the trophy, starting the “second hundred” if you will. (There are two sets of dual victors from 1924 and 1941, plus a 24-karat gold portrait of former Speedway Owner and President Anton “Tony” Hulman.)

Can you imagine the trophy with just 25 faces on it? That was the case prior to the 1938 race, in this classy photo taken on Indianapolis’ Monument Circle with official starter Seth Klein.


The Borg-Warner today, base included, weighs about 110 pounds – not exactly a hoist-over-your-head award like the Stanley Cup or Wimbledon trophies. But in earlier years the base-less trophy was manhandled a little more, with varying degrees of success.

While Wilbur Shaw was being interviewed after his 1939 win, the trophy was propped up next to the winning Boyle Maserati.


In the roadster era, the Borg-Warner Trophy was frequently perched on the rear of the car for the post-race celebration and photos. A perilous position, perhaps, but as was the case with Rodger Ward’s win in 1959, there was no shortage of crewmen and other well-wishers to make sure the prize didn’t fall.


The Borg-Warner Trophy is closing in on 80 years old now, still as iconic today as it was in 1936, when Meyer said “winning the Borg-Warner Trophy is like winning an Olympic medal.”

Hunter-Reay knows.



About The Author

John Schwarb

I joined the Indianapolis Motor Speedway communications team in July 2014 and love sharing stories from the World Capital of Racing, particularly its rich history. Most of my professional career has been in racing or golf, so if I'm not in the IMS media center, the office at 16th and Georgetown or milling around Gasoline Alley, maybe I'll be standing over a birdie putt at Brickyard Crossing. Follow us at @IMS or drop me a line at @JohnSchwarb and come back to the blog often for more stories.