THE DESERT FOX WHO CONQUERED INDY
HIS BOSS, ROGER PENSKE…
“He’s just the best in the business. From a driving standpoint
there could be no better owner, because he raced and
understood what it was all about. When I had my accident at
Sanair [in 1984] they were talking about amputating my feet
and Roger said, ‘Whoa, let’s get him out of here.’ So he flew me
to Indianapolis and Dr. Trammell saved my feet. When I was
recovering he said maybe we should extend my contract and
then told me to take my time because there would be a car
waiting for me when I got out and felt like driving again. Every
year, Pat Patrick would ask me if I wanted to come drive for him
and I’d always say, ‘Not ready yet.’ The truth is there was no
place I’d rather be than with Roger. He did everything for me,
and I’m eternally grateful.”
HIS TOUGHEST TEAMMATE…
“They were all pretty good. ‘Big Al’ [Unser] was
an open book; Emerson [Fittipaldi] and I have a
very similar driving style and spoke the same
language. Mario and Tom Sneva were good to
me. Bobby [Unser] was tough. I’d known him
since Pikes Peak, and when I started driving
Indy cars he’d take me around the track in rental
cars and show me the line and was really helpful.
But when we became teammates I knew how he
was and he didn’t share information, and I
understood and I didn’t blame him. But I had
my own pride and ego and I didn’t want to ask
him anything either... I drove him nuts by not
paying attention – or acting like I wasn’t paying
attention. But he was a fabulous racer.”
Mears made a rare mistake during practice
at Sanair Speedway outside Montreal.
The resulting crash shattered his feet,
which were saved by Dr. Terry Trammell,
but he faced four months in the hospital.
“Quitting never crossed my mind,” he
says of his painful recovery. “When I saw I
still had my feet, I knew I could still drive.”
But the splendid road racer who’d got
F1’s attention and scored multiple
victories at Mexico City and Riverside,
along with Watkins Glen and Brands
Hatch, would only visit a road course
victory lane one more time after his
injury, at Laguna Seca in 1989.
“Everyone said, ‘Oh, his feet are too
messed up,’ and then when I won Laguna
Seca they said, ‘What are you doing
different?’ But I wasn’t doing anything
different, I finally had a good car [Penske
PC- 17] to road race with,” he explains.
Being called an “Oval Meister” was
factual, but also misleading.
“He got labeled as the oval-track ace,
but he was damn good wherever we
raced,” says Mario Andretti.
In 1988, Mears rallied from two laps
down and led the final 77 laps to score
Indianapolis 500 win No. 3, and then
joined rarified air in 1991 with a fourth
Brickyard victory. Although he only ranks
11th in all-time laps led (429) at IMS,
it’s a deceptive statistic.
“Rick was cool and casual, but
underneath he was always thinking about
how to get more out of his car, and making
(BELOW) When the photo was taken in 1989, only A.J. Foyt (center) and Al Unser
(right) were four-time Indy 500 winners. Mears had taken win No. 2 in 1984 (LEFT)
and No. 3 in 1988 (BELOW LEFT), but wouldn’t earn his membership until 1991.
INDY’S MOST EXCLUSIVE CLUB