- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

YORKTOWN, Ind. (AP) - For the past 24 years, Julie Harman Vance has designed the Indy 500 wreath the same way, with a few minor tweaks. She uses 33 orchids, one for each driver in the race. She has the same red, white and blue ribbon. The miniature checkered flags have gotten bigger, but there are no major differences. She has perfected it, she says.

But for the 100th Indy 500, which was Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, she wondered: Should I do something different? Something special to commemorate the historic race?

“I wanted to do metallic letters, put a 100 on it or something clever,” she said this week as she designed it. “I asked the president’s secretary (of sponsor Borg Warner). They said, ‘No, it’s tradition, we want it exactly the same.”

And so that’s what Harman Vance did, a routine she has perfected over the years. In her Yorktown store Buck Creek in Bloom, the wall behind the cash register is lined with photos of Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dario Franchitti wearing the wreath she made. As customers and various news outlets wander in and out, she never seems fazed. She knows what Borg Warner wants, and she delivers. Every year.

It used to take her between six and seven hours to complete the wreath, but this year she figured out that uninterrupted, she can finish in four hours.

After Montoya won last year’s race, Harman Vance got a call from Team Penske.

“They had their wreath, and it was dead. They were in the Carolinas and they wanted to save it,” Harman Vance said. “I found a person that if I took it apart, could freeze dry all the components and put it back together, put in like an airtight shadow box thing.

“But I said, let me make you another one. But Roger Penske was like, ‘No, it’s got to be just that one.’ You know, the tradition of that wreath.”

Usually it takes a week or two for the wreath to die. Harman Vance said she knows that Franchitti, a three-time winner, loves his old, death wreaths and keeps them.

When making this year’s wreath, Harman Vance quickly dismissed the idea that she felt more pressure because it’s the 100th Indy 500. She did as she always does: Stares, switches an orchid, puts more leaves on the back, makes sure there is no glue on the letters ‘Borg Warner’. When she noticed an orchid slightly out of place, she quickly fixed it.

“You see that pedal covering the ‘O’? That ain’t good,” she said with a laugh.

“Honestly, I feel like I put everything I have into every one. I’ll sit there and nitpick that thing for hours.”

After she graduated from Yorktown High School in 1988, Harman Vance lived in Indianapolis for 12 years. The owner of the flower shop she worked at had a connection that landed her this prestigious gig in the first place. She has since moved back to Yorktown and will drive the wreath on Saturday morning to Indianapolis.

She goes into the Panasonic Pagoda to drop it off, which overlooks the winner’s circle. The wreath stays in there as a centerpiece until the winner pulls up Sunday afternoon. She usually sees retired driver Parnelli Jones, but aside from Montoya, Hunter-Reay and Franchitti, she says she probably wouldn’t know the drivers by name if she saw them.

She has tickets every year and usually spends the morning doing interviews on Pit Row and has to scramble to get back to her seat. But this year, she doesn’t have to because there is a parade with the trophy.

“I get to go kind of be a person this year, so I’m glad,” she said. “I get to take some friends, and I have good parking. Don’t have to worry about fighting the crowds. . That’s the most exciting part.”

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Source: The (Muncie) Star Press, https://tspne.ws/20QryW6

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Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com


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