The Woman Behind the Indy 500 Winner's Wreath

In tiny Yorktown, Indiana, Julie Vance crafts the iconic floral prize that champions wear on the podium.

Yorktown, Indiana, about an hour’s drive northeast of Indianapolis, seems an unlikely birthplace for one of the most iconic floral arrangements in motorsports.

With a population of 9,405, the town is roughly a third the size of the Paddock seating section at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Here, a block away the town’s single main road, is a small flower shop called Buck Creek Bloom. Yesterday morning, Julie Vance was visible through the front windows, piecing together the intricate wreath that Sunday’s Indy 500 winner will wear on the victory podium—as every champion has since 1960.

Vance, who crafted her first 500 wreath when she was 22 years old, isn’t the first person to have the job; Bill Conin, the original florist, did the honors until his death in 1989. The torch then passed to Dan and Joyce Purifoy, who made the wreath for two years before giving the job to Vance.

“I was excited, especially for my dad’s sake, because he’s a big race fan,” says Vance. “He’s been [to the Indy 500] eight or 10 times.”

But Joyce Purifoy had to persuade the BorgWarner committee to let Vance have the assignment.

“I was almost 22 years old the first year I made it,” Vance says. “She had to convince them that I could handle it, that I was capable. It was a I know she’s young but she can do this type of thing.’”

Making that first wreath wasn’t easy. According to Vance, it took longer than seven hours to construct as she struggled with the wreath’s previously “busy” design. She and the Purifoys gave the wreath the look we recognize today: cocculus, pittosporum, and salal leaves, with 33 white cymbidium orchids (one representing each driver), red, white, and blue ribbon, and a base of cedar blocks inscribed with “BorgWarner.”

The durable cymbidium orchids can last for a few weeks before withering, and Vance chose a neutral color so they wouldn’t clash with whatever fire suit the winning driver might be wearing. For the foliage, Vance makes more than 1,000 clusters of each leaf.

Crafting the iconic Indy 500 prize brings more than just enjoyment and prestige to Vance—it’s also good for business: Couples looking for a wedding florist often come to her because they know she builds the wreath.

But keeping the gig has involved overcoming obstacles as well. When several of the materials Vance uses were set to be discontinued, she stockpiled enough to last for at least another 15 years.

“I hope I can build it for as long as I can, or until I can’t do it anymore,” she says.


Supplies and Demand: What’s in the Wreath

33 white cymbidium orchids

33 mini water tubes

24-inch polyurethane base

30 feet of red, white, and blue ribbon

70 feet of green floral tape

60 small checkered flag

1.5 pounds of hot glue

Total weight: 30 pounds

Wreath photos by Alyssa Shufelt

Tony Kanaan photo by Kate Shoup