Rick Mears

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Mears at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in March 2011.
Mears' 1991 Penske PC-20 Indy Car

Rick Ravon Mears (born December 3, 1951 in Wichita, Kansas) is a retired American race car driver. He is one of three men to be four-time winners of the Indianapolis 500 (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 Indycar national champion (1979, 1981 and 1982).

Biography[edit]

Early years[edit]

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 Eagle-Offenhauser. His speed attracted the attention of Roger Penske. Although at the time Penske Racing had the services of Mario Andretti and Tom Sneva. Andretti was also racing in Formula One with Lotus at the time but Penske wanted another young driver who would focus exclusively on American racing. For 1978, Mears was offered a part-time ride in nine of the 18 championship races, filling in when Andretti was overseas. The arrangement also included a ride at the Indianapolis 500.

In his rookie appearance at Indy, Mears qualified on the front row, and was the first rookie to qualify over 200 mph. When the race began, Mears discovered his helmet was not strapped on tight enough and he had to pit to get it safely secured. He did not lead a lap and retired at 104 laps with a blown engine. He ended up sharing "Rookie of the Year" honors with Larry Rice. Two weeks later, at the Rex Mays 150, he won his first race. He added another win a month later at Atlanta and rounded off the year with his first road course win at Brands Hatch.

1979[edit]

In 1979 the National Championship sanction changed from the USAC to CART. At Indianapolis he won his first "500", staying at the front of the field, taking advantage when Bobby Unser fell out of contention with mechanical trouble. Three wins and four second places in the eleven CART-eligible races won Mears his first championship. His worst finish in the season was seventh in Trenton's second heat.

1980[edit]

In 1980 the ground effect Chaparral was technologically more advanced than the other chassis. Mears finished in fourth place in the points with one win, scored at Mexico City.

In 1980 Mears had tested a Formula One Brabham and he declined an offer.

1981-1982[edit]

The 1981 and 1982 seasons saw two more championships for Mears. Despite facial burns during a pit fire in the 1981 Indianapolis 500, Mears' ten race victories in the two-year span were enough for another two Indycar championship titles. At the 1982 Indianapolis 500 he came within 0.16 of a second of adding a second Indy win. 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 left him more than 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 10 years as the closest finish to an Indy 500.

1983-1984[edit]

For 1983 the Penske team would acquire the Pennzoil sponsorship with its yellow paint scheme. Teammate Al Unser took that year's 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. 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.

1985-1987[edit]

After the Sanair crash, Mears was slowed by the injuries to his right foot that affected him throughout the remainder of his career. Over the next three seasons, he won only two races. He completed a comeback from his injuries by winning the 1985 Pocono 500. In 1986, he won the pole position for the Indy 500, but finished only 3rd. He also won the 1987 Pocono 500.

1988-1990[edit]

In 1988, after several years using the March chassis, the Penske team utilized a new car, the PC-17, with a Chevrolet racing engine. Mears used the new car to win the Indy 500. A year later, he took a record-setting fifth pole position at Indy, but retired from the race with mechanical problems. Emerson Fittipaldi took the 500 and also beat Mears to the Championship in the last race at Laguna Seca Raceway, 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 Pennzoil paint scheme as Marlboro took over as sponsor of the team.

1991-1992[edit]

In 1991, for the first time in his career, Mears hit the wall at Indianapolis during a practice session. The next day, he climbed into his backup car and claimed his record 6th career pole position. Twenty laps from the end of the 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. A lap later Mears regained the lead, using the same move Andretti had. Turning up his turbocharger, he then pulled away to win a fourth Indy 500, making him one of only three individuals to do so. 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 then announced his retirement from racing Indycars at the Penske team's Christmas party. No one except Penske himself and Rick's wife, Chris, knew of his plans to retire. He had just turned 41 years old.

As of 2010, 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 Mears, father of off-road racer, Clint Mears, and the uncle of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Casey Mears, also born in Bakersfield.

Awards[edit]

American Open-Wheel racing results[edit]

USAC results[edit]

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position)

Year Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Rank Points
1976 Bill Simpson PHX
TRE
INDY
MIL
POC
MCH
TWS
TRE
MIL
ONT
8
MCH
16th 390
Art Sugai TWS
9
PHX
9
1977 Art Sugai ONT
24
PHX
DNQ
TWS
15
TRE
INDY
DNQ
MIL
20th 555
Theodore Racing POC
30
MOS
MCH
6
TWS
7
MIL
5
ONT
26
MCH
8
PHX
1978 Team Penske PHX
5
ONT
TWS
TRE
INDY
23
MOS
2
MIL
1
POC
MCH
22
ATL
1
TWS
9
MIL
2
ONT
9
MCH
TRE
SIL
2
BRH
1
PHX
9th 2171

PPG Indycar Series[edit]

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position)

Year Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Rank Points
1979 Team Penske PHX
2
ATL
5
ATL
2
INDY
1
TRE
5
TRE
7
MCH
4
MCH
5
WGL
2
TRE
1
ONT
2
MCH
3
ATL
1
PHX
3
1st 4060
1980 Team Penske ONT
21
INDY
5
MIL
5
POC
12
MDO
9
MCH
4
WGL
2
MIL
2
ONT
3
MCH
3
MEX
1
PHX
7
4th 2866
1981 Team Penske PHX
4
MIL
ATL
1
ATL
1
MCH
3
RIV
1
MIL
2
MCH
1
WGL
1
MEX
1
PHX
8
1st 304
1982 Team Penske PHX
1
ATL
1
MIL
3
CLE
4
MCH
15
MIL
12
POC
1
RIV
1
ROA
5
MCH
25
PHX
2
1st 294
1983 Team Penske ATL
8
INDY
3
MIL
3
CLE
7
MCH
4
ROA
17
POC
3
RIV
19
MDO
9
MCH
1
CPL
13
LAG
21
PHX
17
6th 92
1984 Team Penske LBH
21
PHX
18
INDY
1
MIL
2
POR
10
MEA
10
CLE
4
MCH
3
ROA
4
POC
2
MDO
5
SAN
DNS
MCH
PHX
LAG
CPL
5th 110
1985 Team Penske LBH
INDY
21
MIL
3
POR
MEA
CLE
MCH
30
ROA
POC
1
MDO
SAN
MCH
2
LAG
PHX
MIA
10th 51
1986 Team Penske PHX
19
LBH
20
INDY
3
MIL
3
POR
16
MEA
19
CLE
4
TOR
8
MCH
12
POC
8
MDO
17
SAN
18
MCH
8
ROA
3
LAG
17
PHX
20
MIA
3
8th 89
1987 Team Penske LBH
9
PHX
20
INDY
23
MIL
21
POR
3
MEA
18
CLE
7
TOR
10
MCH
21
POC
1
ROA
9
MDO
4
NAZ
3
LAG
3
MIA
5
5th 102
1988 Team Penske PHX
22
LBH
8
INDY
1
MIL
1
POR
6
CLE
23
TOR
6
MEA
3
MCH
13
POC
23
MDO
3
ROA
12
NAZ
7
LAG
5
MIA
2
4th 129
1989 Team Penske PHX
1
LBH
5
INDY
23
MIL
1
DET
5
POR
8
CLE
5
MEA
4
TOR
5
MCH
7
POC
2
MDO
6
ROA
3
NAZ
2
LAG
1
2nd 186
1990 Team Penske PHX
1
LBH
6
INDY
5
MIL
2
DET
4
POR
5
CLE
8
MEA
2
TOR
12
MCH
14
DEN
7
VAN
4
MDO
7
ROA
3
NAZ
2
LAG
4
3rd 168
1991 Team Penske SRF
3
LBH
4
PHX
5
INDY
1
MIL
15
DET
5
POR
6
CLE
17
MEA
3
TOR
20
MCH
1
DEN
8
VAN
6
MDO
6
ROA
15
NAZ
15
LAG
5
4th 145
1992 Team Penske SRF
2
PHX
8
LBH
6
INDY
26
DET
POR
7
MIL
16
NHA
4
TOR
MCH
16
CLE
ROA
VAN
MDO
NAZ
LAG
13th 47

Indianapolis 500 results[edit]

Year Chassis Engine Start Finish Note Team
1977 Eagle Offy Did not qualify Sugai
1978 Penske Cosworth 3rd 23rd Engine Failure Penske
1979 Penske Cosworth 1st 1st Running Penske
1980 Penske Cosworth 6th 5th Running Penske
1981 Penske Cosworth 22nd 30th Pit lane fire Penske
1982 Penske Cosworth 1st 2nd Running Penske
1983 Penske Cosworth 3rd 3rd Running Penske
1984 March Cosworth 3rd 1st Running Penske
1985 March Cosworth 10th 21st Gear linkage Penske
1986 March Cosworth 1st 3rd Running Penske
1987 March Cosworth 3rd 23rd Ignition Penske
1988 Penske Chevrolet 1st 1st Running Penske
1989 Penske Chevrolet 1st 23rd Engine failure Penske
1990 Penske Chevrolet 2nd 5th Running Penske
1991 Penske Chevrolet 1st 1st Running Penske
1992 Penske Chevrolet 9th 26th Crash Penske

Indy 500 Qualifying Results[edit]

Year Att # Date Time Qual
Day
Car # Laps Qual
Time
Qual
Speed
Rank Start Comment
1977 85 05-22 16:02 4 90 1 Incomplete run; pulled off
96 05-22 17:21 4 90 2 Incomplete run; waved off
1978 10 05-20 12:13 1 71 4 2:59.93 200.078 4 3  
1979 34 05-13 16:39 1 9 4 3:05.82 193.736 1 1  
1980 1 05-10 11:05 1 1 4 3:12.01 187.490 7 6  
1981 34 05-16 13:41 1 6 2 Incomplete run; pulled off
53 05-16 15:52 2 68 4 3:05.55 194.018 10 22  
1982 2 05-15 11:09 1 1 4 2:53.91 207.004 1 1 1 and 4 lap track records
1983 7 05-21 11:39 1 2 4 2:56.211 204.301 3 3  
1984 2 05-12 12:25 1 6 4 2:53.204 207.847 3 3  
1985 29 05-11 17:10 1 1 4 2:51.595 209.796 10 10  
1986 9 05-10 12:40 1 4 4 2:46.030 216.828 1 1 1 and 4 lap track records
1987 3 05-09 11:19 1 81T 4 2:50.239 211.467 3 3  
1988 23 05-14 13:58 1 5 4 2:44.235 219.198 1 1 1 and 4 lap track records
1989 20 05-14 14:09 1 4 4 2:40.797 223.885 1 1 1 and 4 lap track records
1990 6 05-13 16:57 1 2 4 2:40.560 224.215 2 2  
1991 16 05-11 12:51 1 3T 4 2:40.633 224.113 2 1  
1992 21 05-09 17:48 1 4 4 2:40.289 224.594 10 9  

Books[edit]

  • Tremayne, David (1991). Racers Apart: Memories of motorsport heroes. UK: Motor Racing Publications Ltd. p. 293. ISBN 0-947981-58-6. 
  • Kirby, Gordon (2008). Rick Mears * Thanks: The Story of Rick Mears and the Mears Gang. US: Crash Media Group. p. 264. ISBN 1-905334-30-3. 

Trivia[edit]

  • Mears has seven of the top ten best Indianapolis 500 five-year qualifying streaks in the 200 mph (320 km/h) era.
  • Mears has the top six best Indianapolis 500 ten-year qualifying streaks in the 200 mph (320 km/h) era.
  • Mears is one of only two drivers(Bobby Unser) to win the Indianapolis 500 in 3 different decades(1979, 1984, 1988, 1991)
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Jerry Sneva
Indianapolis 500
Rookie of the Year

1978
With Larry Rice
Succeeded by
Howdy Holmes
Preceded by
Al Unser
Indianapolis 500
Winner

1979
Succeeded by
Johnny Rutherford
Preceded by
Tom Sneva
Indianapolis 500
Winner

1984
Succeeded by
Danny Sullivan
Preceded by
Al Unser
Indianapolis 500
Winner

1988
Succeeded by
Emerson Fittipaldi
Preceded by
Arie Luyendyk
Indianapolis 500
Winner

1991
Succeeded by
Al Unser, Jr.
Preceded by
None
PPG Indycar World Series
Champion

1979
Succeeded by
Johnny Rutherford
Preceded by
Johnny Rutherford
PPG Indycar World Series
Champion

1981-1982
Succeeded by
Al Unser

External links[edit]