- Rick Mears
Rick Ravon Mears (born
December 3, 1951in Wichita, Kansas) is a retired American race car driver. He is the third of three men to have won the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race four times (1979, 1984, 1988, 1991), and the current record-holder for pole positions in the race with six (1979, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991). Mears is also a three-time CARTnational champion (1979, 1981 and 1982).
Mears was raised in
Bakersfield, California, and began his racing career in off-road racing. He switched to Indy Car racing in the late 1970s, making his debut for the small Art Sugai team, driving an obsolete Eagle-Offenhauser. His speed attracted the attention of Roger Penske. Although at the time Penske Racinghad the services of Tom Snevaand Mario Andretti, Andretti was also racing in Formula Onewith Lotus at the time and Penske wanted another young driver who would focus exclusively on American racing. For 1978 Mears was offered a drive in nine of the eighteen championship races, including the Indianapolis 500.
Mears qualified on the front row at Indy, but did not lead a lap and retired at 104 laps with a blown engine. Two weeks later, at the
Rex Mays150 at Milwaukee, he bounced back to win his first race. He added another win another month later at Atlanta and rounded off the year with his first road course win at Brands Hatchas the USAC cars made their first, and last, visit to England.
In 1979 the National Championship sanction changed from the USAC to Championship Auto Racing Teams (
CART), and Mears emerged as the driver to beat. At Indianapolis he won his first "500" by virtue of staying at the front of the field and taking the lead as other drivers dropped out with mechanical problems. This intelligent and patient approach was to become Mears trademark style.
Three wins and four seconds in the eleven CART-eligible races was easily enough to wrap up his first championship. Mears worst finish in 1979 was fifth. 1980 the revolutionary
ground effectChaparral put every other team on the back foot and Mears had to be content with 4th place overall and only one win, scored at Mexico City.
1981 and 1982 saw Mears at the top of his game, both in terms of speed and consistency. Despite facial burns during a pit fire in the
1981 Indianapolis 500, Mears' ten wins in the two-year span were enough for another two championship titles. At the 1982 Indianapolis 500he came within 0.16 of a second of adding a second Indy win. In hindsight, the team made a rare mistake in judgement. With less than 20 laps to go, during Mears' final pit stop, the crew filled the entire tank rather than giving him only the amount he needed to finish. The delay put him behind over 11 seconds behind Gordon Johncock. Mears made up the difference when Johncock suffered handling problems, but failed to secure the win. The photo-finish would stand for ten years as the closest finish to an Indy 500.
For 1983 the Penske team would acquire the famous yellow colours of
Pennzoilbut a recalcitrant chassis meant the team had to rely on consistency over speed. Although teammate Al Unsertook the title, the team switched to the March chassis for the 1984 Indianapolis 500 after the Penske chassis proved unsuccessful in the first two races of the year. This would prove a blessing and a curse as Mears scored his second Indy win that May but suffered severe leg injuries later in the year in a crash at Sanair. The March chassis, like most contemporary open-wheel racing cars, sat the driver far forward in the nose, with little protection for the legs and feet.
In 1980 Mears had tested a
Formula One Brabham. However, as he was expected to bring money to the team, rather than receive a salary, he declined the offer. After 1984 his F1-level of speed on road-courses was blunted by the injuries to his right foot and the 1985, 1986 and 1987 years were relatively quiet seasons by Mears' standards, with only two wins, both scored at Pocono, a tri-ovaltrack.
In 1988, after several years using the March chassis, the Penske team were ready to unleash their new car, the PC-17, and a potent new
Chevroletracing engine. The new car powered Mears into an exclusive club: three-time Indy 500 winners. A year later he took a record-setting fifth pole position at Indy, but retired from the race with mechanical gremlins. Emerson Fittipalditook the 500 and also beat Mears to the Championship in the last race at Laguna Seca, despite Mears winning that race. Also, that last race of 1989 set Mears apart from all other Indycar racers as he broke a tie with Bobby Rahal for race wins and became the most successful Indycar racer of the 1980s.
Fittipaldi joined Mears at Penske for 1990, but the year belonged to
Al Unser, Jr., who scored six wins. 1990 would be Mears' last in the Pennzoillivery as Marlboro stepped-up their sponsorship of the team.
Twenty laps from the end of the 1991 Indianapolis 500 it looked like Mears was set to be the runner-up behind
Michael Andretti. However, when a subsequent yellow flag period erased Andretti's 15 second lead, Mears gained the lead as Andretti opted to pit for fuel. It would be a short-lived lead as Andretti passed Mears around the outside into the first turn.
But Mears was not beaten. A lap later he returned the favor with his own breathtaking outside pass and shot back into the lead. Turning up his turbo-boost he then pulled away to win a fourth Indy 500, making him one of only three individuals to win the event four times. In August 1991 at Michigan he won his last race. At the 1992 Indy 500 Mears broke a wrist in a crash during practice and then crashed out of the race for the first time in his career as he could not avoid Jim Crawford's spinning car in turn 1. He raced only four more times in 1992 and announced his retirement from racing Indycars at the Penske team's Christmas party. He had just turned 41 years old, and nobody except for his wife and Roger Penske himself knew about it.
As of|2008 Rick Mears continues to work as a consultant to Penske racing, the team with which he won all of his Indycar races.
He is the brother of
Roger Mearsand the uncle of NASCARdriver Casey Mears.
*In 1997, he was inducted into the
International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
*He was inducted in the
Motorsports Hall of Fame of Americain 1998.
USAC Champ Car career results
Indy 500 Qualifying Results
*cite book| last = Tremayne
first = David
title = Racers Apart: Memories of motorsport heroes
publisher = Motor Racing Publications Ltd
date = 1991
location = UK
pages = 293
isbn = 0947981586
*cite book| last = Kirby
first = Gordon
title = Rick Mears * Thanks: The Story of Rick Mears and the Mears Gang
publisher = Crash Media Group
date = 2008
location = US
pages = 264
isbn = 1905334303
*Mears has seven of the top ten best Indianapolis 500 five-year qualifying streaks in the 200 mph era.
*Mears has the top six best Indianapolis 500 ten-year qualifying streaks in the 200 mph era.
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