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Mears' 1991 Indy Car

Rick Ravon Mears (born December 3, 1951 in 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 CART national champion (1979, 1981 and 1982).

Contents

Biography

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 Tom Sneva and Mario Andretti, Andretti was also racing in Formula One with Lotus at the time and Penske wanted another young driver who would focus exclusively on American racing. For 1978 Mears was offered a ride 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 Mays 150 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 Hatch as the USAC cars made their only visit to England. In 1979 the National Championship sanction changed from the USAC to Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). 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. Three wins and four seconds in the eleven CART-eligible races won Mears his first championship. His worst finish in the season was fifth. In 1980 the ground effect Chaparral was technologically more advanced that the other chassis. Mears finished in fourth place in the points with one win, scored at Mexico City.

1981 and 1982 were two more championship seasons for Mears. 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 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 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 Pennzoil sponsorship with its yellow paint scheme. Teammate Al Unser took 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. 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 and he declined an offer. After 1984 he was slowed by the injuries to his right foot and the 1985, 1986 and 1987 years saw Mears win two races, both scored at the tri-oval Pocono Raceway.

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, 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.

In 1991, For the first time in his career, Mears hit the wall at Indianapolis, during a practice session. the next day, he climbed in his backup car, and shattered the qualifying record to take his record 6th 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 he returned back into 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 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, Cris, 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 Mears, father of off-road racer, Clint Mears, and the uncle of NASCAR driver Casey Mears.

Awards

USAC Champ Car career results

Year Team Wins Points Finish
1976 Art Sugai 0 390 16th
1977 Art Sugai/Theodore Racing 0 555 20th
1978 Penske Racing 3 2171 9th

American Open-Wheel Racing career results

(key)

Year Team Series 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Rank Points
1978 Penske USAC United States
PHX
5
United States
ONT
 
United States
TWS
 
United States
TRE
 
United States
INDY
23
Canada
MSP
2
United States
MIL
1
United States
POC
 
United States
MIS
22
United States
ATL
1
United States
TWS2
9
United States
MIL2
2
United States
ONT2
9
United States
MIS2
 
United States
TRE2
 
United Kingdom
SIL
2
United Kingdom
BRH
1
United States
PHX2
 
9th 2171
1979 Penske USAC   United States
ONT
 
United States
TWS
 
United States
INDY^
1
United States
MIL
 
United States
POC
 
United States
TWS2
 
United States
MIL2
 
                    NR^^ 0
CART United States
PHX
2
United States
ATL
2
United States
ATL2
5
United States
TRE
5
United States
TRE2
7
United States
MIS
4
United States
MIS2
5
United States
WGL
2
United States
TRE3
1
United States
ONT
2
United States
MIS3
3
United States
ATL3
1
United States
PHX2
3
        1st 4060
1980 Penske CART United States
ONT
21
United States
INDY
5
United States
MIL
5
United States
POC
12
United States
MDO
9
United States
MIS
4
United States
WGL
2
United States
MIL
2
United States
ONT2
3
United States
MIS
3
Mexico
MEX
1
United States
PHX
7
            4th 2866
1981 Penske CART United States
PHX
4
United States
MIL
 
United States
ATL
1
United States
ATL2
1
United States
MIS
3
United States
RIV
1
United States
MIL2
2
United States
MIS2
1
United States
WGL
1
Mexico
MEX
1
United States
PHX2
8
              1st 304
1982 Penske CART United States
PHX
1
United States
ATL
1
United States
MIL
3
United States
CLE
4
United States
MIS
15
United States
MIL
12
United States
POC
1
United States
RIV
1
United States
ROA
5
United States
MIS2
25
United States
PHX2
2
              1st 294
1983 Penske CART United States
ATL
8
United States
INDY
3
United States
MIL
3
United States
CLE
7
United States
MIS
4
United States
ROA
17
United States
POC
3
United States
RIV
19
United States
MDO
9
United States
MIS2
1
United States
LSV
13
United States
LS
21
United States
PHX
17
          6th 92
1984 Penske CART United States
LBH
21
United States
PHX
18
United States
INDY
1
United States
MIL
2
United States
POR
10
United States
MEA
10
United States
CLE
4
United States
MIS
3
United States
ROA
4
United States
POC
2
United States
MDO
5
Canada
SAN
 
United States
MIS2
 
United States
PHX2
 
United States
LS
 
United States
LSV
 
    5th 110
1985 Penske CART United States
LBH
 
United States
INDY
21
United States
MIL
3
United States
POR
 
United States
MEA
 
United States
CLE
 
United States
MIS
30
United States
ROA
 
United States
POC
1
United States
MDO
 
Canada
SAN
 
United States
MIS2
2
United States
LS
 
United States
PHX
 
United States
MIA
 
      10th 51
1986 Penske CART United States
PHX
19
United States
LBH
20
United States
INDY
3
United States
MIL
3
United States
POR
16
United States
MEA
19
United States
CLE
4
Canada
TOR
8
United States
MIS
12
United States
POC
8
United States
MDO
17
Canada
SAN
18
United States
MIS2
8
United States
ROA
3
United States
LS
17
United States
PHX2
20
United States
MIA
3
  8th 89
1987 Penske CART United States
LBH
9
United States
PHX
20
United States
INDY
23
United States
MIL
21
United States
POR
3
United States
MEA
17
United States
CLE
7
Canada
TOR
10
United States
MIS
21
United States
POC
1
United States
ROA
9
United States
MDO
4
United States
NZR
3
United States
LS
3
United States
MIA
5
      5th 102
1988 Penske CART United States
PHX
22
United States
LBH
8
United States
INDY
1
United States
MIL
1
United States
POR
6
United States
CLE
23
Canada
TOR
6
United States
MEA
3
United States
MIS
13
United States
POC
23
United States
MDO
3
United States
ROA
12
United States
NZR
7
United States
LS
5
United States
MIA
2
      4th 129
1989 Penske CART United States
PHX
1
United States
LBH
5
United States
INDY
23
United States
MIL
1
United States
DET
5
United States
POR
8
United States
CLE
5
United States
MEA
4
Canada
TOR
5
United States
MIS
7
United States
POC
2
United States
MDO
6
United States
ROA
3
United States
NZR
2
United States
LS
1
      2nd 186
1990 Penske CART United States
PHX
1
United States
LBH
6
United States
INDY
5
United States
MIL
2
United States
DET
4
United States
POR
5
Canada
CLE
8
United States
MEA
2
United States
TOR
12
United States
MIS
14
United States
DEN
7
Canada
VAN
4
United States
MDO
7
United States
ROA
3
United States
NZR
2
United States
LS
4
    3rd 168
1991 Penske CART Australia
SRF
3
United States
LBH
4
United States
PHX
5
United States
INDY
1
United States
MIL
15
United States
DET
5
United States
POR
6
United States
CLE
17
United States
MEA
3
Canada
TOR
20
United States
MIS
1
United States
DEN
8
Canada
VAN
6
United States
MDO
6
United States
ROA
15
United States
NZR
15
United States
LS
5
  4th 145
1992 Penske CART Australia
SRF
2
United States
PHX
8
United States
LBH
9
United States
INDY
26
United States
DET
 
United States
POR
7
United States
MIL
16
United States
NHM
4
Canada
TOR
 
United States
MIS
16
United States
CLE
 
United States
ROA
 
Canada
VAN
 
United States
MDO
 
United States
NZR
 
United States
LS
 
    13th 47
^ Race sanctioned by USAC, but counted in points toward both series' championships.
^^ Entries competing solely at Indianapolis not awarded points for full season.

Total: 3 championships, 26 victories

Indianapolis 500 results

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

Year Att # Date Time Qual
Day
Car # Laps Qual
Time
Qual
Speed
Rank Start Comment
1977 85 05-22 16:02 4 90 1 PULLED OFF
1977 96 05-22 17:21 4 90 2 WAVED OFF
1978 10 05-20 12:13 1 71 4 2:59.9300 200.078 4 3  
1979 34 05-13 16:39 1 9 4 3:05.8200 193.736 1 1  
1980 1 05-10 11:05 1 1 4 3:12.0100 187.490 7 6  
1981 34 05-16 13:41 1 6 2 PULLED OFF
1981 53 05-16 15:52 2 68 4 3:05.5500 194.018 10 22  
1982 2 05-15 11:09 1 1 4 2:53.9100 207.004 1 1  
1983 7 05-21 11:39 1 2 4 2:56.2110 204.301 3 3  
1984 2 05-12 12:25 1 6 4 2:53.2040 207.847 3 3  
1985 29 05-11 17:10 1 1 4 2:51.5950 209.796 10 10  
1986 9 05-10 12:40 1 4 4 2:46.0300 216.828 1 1  
1987 3 05-09 11:19 1 81T 4 2:50.2390 211.467 3 3  
1988 23 05-14 13:58 1 5 4 2:44.2350 219.198 1 1  
1989 20 05-14 14:09 1 4 4 2:40.7970 223.885 1 1  
1990 6 05-13 16:57 1 2 4 2:40.5600 224.215 2 2  
1991 16 05-11 12:51 1 3T 4 2:40.6330 224.113 2 1  
1992 21 05-09 17:48 1 4 4 2:40.2890 224.594 10 9  

Books

  • Tremayne, David (1991). Racers Apart: Memories of motorsport heroes. UK: Motor Racing Publications Ltd. pp. 293. ISBN 0947981586. 
  • Kirby, Gordon (2008). Rick Mears * Thanks: The Story of Rick Mears and the Mears Gang. US: Crash Media Group. pp. 264. ISBN 1905334303. 

Trivia

  • 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.
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
CART Series
Champion

1979
Succeeded by
Johnny Rutherford
Preceded by
Johnny Rutherford
CART Series
Champion

1981-1982
Succeeded by
Al Unser







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