INDYCAR: A Gall-ing championship trophy

Dario Franchitti and Will Power stand on either side of the new IZOD IndyCar Series championship trophy designed by sculptor Ted Gall. (Photo: IZOD IndyCar Series)

Sculptor Ted Gall seems to be pretty darn proud of the IZOD IndyCar Series champion's trophy he designed.

In the press release distributed about the new trophy, he boasted that his masterpiece finally solved that ages-old dilemma about racing trophies - that drivers hate them:

"The drivers were really tired of getting bowling trophies," Gall said. "They’re bowls or something that doesn’t relate to what they’re doing. Izod has gone beyond other sports. Rather than give out the run-of-the-mill trophy, they’re giving artwork to the drivers about what they are."

Apparently, to Ted Gall at least, IndyCar drivers are Aryan supermen riding Wheel-Os while desperately reaching out to the world in supplication.

Now, we can go on and on about what constitutes "art." We're as likely to find a consensus about that as we are to make peace between Israel and Palestine or Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann.

The most disturbing part of the trophy - to me, anyway - is not that it's art. It's that it's recycled art.

Recognize anything in this photo? If you've been to Barber Motorsports Park lately, then you probably have seen these figures at the vintage museum on the premises. These figures are identical to the one now gracing Ted Gall's IICS championship trophy.

Now, Ted Gall can go on and on about how awesome this trophy is and how he designed it to show race drivers "reaching out [and] grabbing for that win." It fits with IZOD's marketing strategy and their desire to show bold, avant garde imagery. I'm sure that the marketing flacks at the sponsor's headquarters got all in a tizzy when they saw it for the first time.

But to me, it looks like Gall basically cashed IZOD's check by sticking a half-scale prototype model from his Barber sculptures onto a block of African wood and calling it "done."

If Gall's trophy existed in a vacuum, unrelated to anything else, then the debate over whether it is a proper championship trophy would be limited to a discussion on what type of art viewers preferred. But given the context of Gall's previous Barber sculptures, it makes the new IndyCar championship trophy look like a "quickie" recycling job by the sculptor.

Even that might have been okay if Gall had used existing imagery that had anything to do whatsoever with Indianapolis. The famed "winged wheel," for instance, which has been so memorably adopted in a string of Indy 500 event logos. Or perhaps a stylized interpretation of a victor's podium created from abstract shapes. Maybe even a 3-dimensional extrusion of a checkered flag rising out of the woodwork.

Perhaps Gall could have gone even further and created a masterpiece of abstraction that would have challenged viewers' preconceptions about what racing really is. But he did not. He re-created his own art, much in the same way as Mario Puzo might have recycled his script for The Godfather to sell as an episode of The Sopranos. In other words, Ted Gall used a shortcut. And IZOD paid him for it.

I've already written plenty about what I think should be done about the IndyCar championship and trophy. But the basic, fundamental truth is this: given its importance to the series, the IndyCar champion's trophy should have been breathtakingly unique - as unique as the Borg-Warner Trophy, at the very least.

What the eventual 2010 champion will receive instead is a knock off. If that's good enough for an IndyCar icon, then consider me well and truly galled.

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