From Contender To Champion, Indy Victory Changed Rice's Life 2004 '500' winner unveils Borg-Warner likeness, receives winner's ring INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2005 -- It was a year and four days ago that Rahal Letterman Racing announced...
From Contender To Champion, Indy Victory Changed Rice's Life
2004 '500' winner unveils Borg-Warner likeness, receives winner's ring
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2005 -- It was a year and four days ago that Rahal Letterman Racing announced that Buddy Rice would serve as an "interim" driver for the team.
While Rice's impressive performance early in the 2004 IndyCar® Series season quickly earned him a ride with Rahal Letterman for the remainder of the season, it was his hard-fought victory in the 88th Indianapolis 500 that earned him immortality.
Rice was the guest of honor at a press conference Jan. 12 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum to unveil his likeness on the famed Borg-Warner Trophy. Thanks to the work of a skilled silversmith, Rice's bas-relief image now appears with the faces drivers that have won 87 Indianapolis 500-Mile Races before him.
Joie Chitwood, president and chief operating officer of IMS, also presented Rice with the coveted Indianapolis 500 Champion of Champions ring during the event. Herff-Jones created the diamond-adorned ring.
"It's pretty 'blingy,'" Rice quipped. "Pretty flashy; it's a cool ring."
To put in perspective the honor of having the image of his face permanently affixed to the Borg-Warner Trophy, Rice first cited one of his racing heroes and fellow Phoenix resident Arie Luyendyk, who he had just seen hours before at an Indy Racing League safety meeting.
"To be in company with people like that, and A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and everybody else that made this trophy so coveted and what makes everybody from around the world and all different motorsports come to this race and run, this is what we do it for," Rice said. "It's because we love racing, but to be associated with the people that are on this trophy, it's just a phenomenal feat for myself and the team. This is one for all the guys."
Rice was impressed with his likeness on the trophy, even though it came without a certain trademark of his public image.
"It would look better if I was wearing a hat," he said wryly.
Rice has not had much time at home in Phoenix following the end of the 2004 IndyCar Series season, due in large part to special events and appearances related to his Indianapolis 500 victory.
Rice admitted he was overwhelmed by the post-Indianapolis 500 events of 2004, one of the highlights being a visit to the White House and meeting President George W. Bush, but he still relates the accomplishment in his trademark humble and low-key style.
"Some people race and do this thing for different reasons, to be in front of the camera and all the hoopla," Rice said, "other people are here for one reason, and that is to race. That's what brings me here. Being so special and so big, it takes awhile for it all to be taken in."
Rice said his approach to the 2005 Indianapolis 500, scheduled for May 29, will not change from last year. The biggest difference for Rahal Letterman Racing is that it has added a third car for rookie Danica Patrick, the 22-year-old who hopes to become only the fourth woman to qualify and race in the Indianapolis 500.
The only way that may affect Rice's approach at Indianapolis is that he will serve as a mentor, if asked.
"You can be a mentor; it depends on how people perceive it and take it in," he said. "Everybody drives and thinks and has their different approach. The door is always open.
"On my approach, I'm going to do the exact same thing I did last year. The only thing different is the schedule is a little more compact. Whether it's Indy, Homestead, Phoenix or on down the road, it's going to be the exact same from start to finish."
Indy 500 tickets: To purchase tickets, camping or parking for the 89th Indianapolis 500, contact the IMS ticket office at (800) 822-INDY or log on to www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com.