Before the Borg Warner there was ... 

click to enlarge An example of the Strauss trophy from the 1930s - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • An example of the Strauss trophy from the 1930s
  • Submitted Photo

David Goss owns two items that no one else in the world has. He is the proud owner of two Strauss trophies from the Indianapolis 500.

The Strauss Trophy was given from 1911 to sometime in the 1970s. Each one was a different piece of artwork either commissioned by the owner of the Strauss Company — or acquired by that owner while traveling overseas. The trophies ranged from a small statue of birds in flight to an oil painting and everything in between.

Goss is partner at a tax firm (and the former vice president of the National Indianapolis 500 Collectors Club), which means by the time the 500 rolls around he is ready for vacation. This year the day that tax season ended he decided to reward himself by indulging in a few of his passions — the 500 and antiques.

He went down to Speedway to see the current Roger Penske exhibit, then went to the Main Attraction Antique Mall nearby. (The mall is known for having race memorabilia.) Earlier that week the shop had received an old trophy. Amongst the cluttered booths and wide aisles, Goss knew he had a gem. When Goss looked at it he recognized the unique style as a Strauss.

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It turned out to be Floyd Davis' 1941 Strauss Trophy, an ornate clock with a bronze woman seated next to it reading a book, all perched on a marble base. The trophy had been sold to the antique shop after it was purchased at a Goodwill outlet in Indy.

The statue weighs about 40 pounds and sits on a 20-inch base. It — along with his second Strauss find — are currently being repaired.

He found the second through an online estate auction out of Arizona. It was Louis Meyer's 1933 Strauss — a bronze warrior on a horse holding a spear on a marble base.

The trophy was owned by one of Meyer's family members in California. Unfortunately it was damaged in an earthquake that caused a crack in the sculpture's base.

Goss had a crate custom designed for shipping the trophy. With the piece and the weight of the crate, the package weighed 101 pounds. The trophy alone weighs about 75 pounds. It sits on a marble base that's roughly 30 inches long and stands 18 inches high.

Finding these trophies is not only uncommon, it's a huge point of pride for 500 history buffs.

"There is a fine line between a hobby and an obsession," laughs Goss. "Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

The items are rare finds, not only because there was only one of each, but because there are only about 60 of them in the world.

"You're not going to find any two... that are the same [before the 1960s]," says Goss.

Another Strauss is owned by one of Goss' friends, a collector who Goss did not wish to name because of the high value of the items. His friend has a 1953 oil painting that was done by Indiana artist Ernest Rose (who may have been a professor at Herron, according to Goss). Rose was killed in the same plane crash that ended Wilbur Shaw's life in October 1954.

The work was commissioned by the Strauss company and awarded to the winning driver.

"They're unique," says Goss. "There was only one given to each driver. So unlike the Borg Warner Trophy that's given out now — where they give one to the car owner, one to the driver. Certainly the Borg Warner Trophies are very well known and very valuable, but unlike the Borg Warner Trophies, the Strauss Trophies are unique."

For collectors like Goss, they are a tangible piece of history. The 1941 trophy that was given to Davis marks a unique race in the books of the 500. Davis actually never led a lap in the 500. He was a co-winner due to having to switch out with another driver.

The 1933 trophy that was given to Meyer notes that he's the first three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.

According to Goss, the list of prize money for winners indicates that these trophies were given out past 1970, the programs stop mentioning the Strauss as an award around that time as well. He also noted that Strauss' ads claim that they gave the winner an award starting in1911. The Borg Warner was first awarded in 1936 so many winners were given both.

Goss has been carefully tracing the timeline of the race for years. He started collecting in 1991, beginning with a few programs from the 1970s. After three years he had nearly every one from the 500, missing only seven.

"After being such a huge fan of the 500 and interested in it, I started expanding into other areas of collecting," says Goss. "As I like to say it got out of hand after that."

He now has over 1,000 items.

His favorite item's a blueprint from an MGM movie called To Please A Lady starring Clark Gable which was filmed at the Speedway. The blueprint of the track was used for reference while filming. He also has some panoramic photos from 1911. For him, the items are a piece of the past and a reminder of going fishing with his six brothers and sisters on Memorial Day and listening to the race as a child. Now, it's larger than life.

"I think it's the enormity of the event, the history of the event and just the speed and the excitement," says Goss. "It's a very unique sporting event, even comparing other races ... Everything about it is big. Everything about it is enormous.

"It's exciting to me that this is something I can reach out to and touch every year," says Goss.

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Emily Taylor

Emily Taylor

Bio:
Emily is the arts editor at NUVO, where she covers everything from visual art to comedy. In fact she is probably at a theater production right now. Before joining the ranks here, she worked for Indianapolis Monthly and Gannett. You can find her thoughts about Indy scattered throughout the NUVO arts section and... more

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