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"Rocket Rick" won in three decades

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Mears used high pass to beat Andretti
By Mike Puma
Special to

Signature Race
May 26, 1991 - Rick Mears streaked into Indy 500 history as he joined A.J. Foyt and Al Unser Sr. as the only drivers to win the race four times.

Mears, 39, got into the Indy record book after outracing Michael Andretti in a brilliant duel. Andretti had a lead of almost 15 seconds before making a pit stop for a brief splash of fuel when the yellow flag came out 15 laps from the end. When Andretti returned to the track, Mears was the leader, but not for long as Andretti made a bold move and passed him.

However, on the next lap, the usually conservative Mears returned the favor and passed Andretti on the high side and pulled away. "I don't know if I ever did that before," Mears said. "I got the draft down the straightaway, he stayed down low, and my tires were cool and fresh."

The first to win from the pole position three times -- and in three different decades -- Mears won by 3.1 seconds with an average speed of 176.46 miles per hour in his Penske-Chevrolet.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • Mears' older brother Roger won 20 off-road world championship events.

  • Of Mears' 29 Indy car victories, seven came on road courses.

  • On oval tracks, Mears was regarded as peerless.

  • He started on the front row at Indy 11 times.

  • Mears raced Indy cars for three years before he ever spun out in one.

  • He won the pole 40 times in his career.

  • Mears had an opportunity to drive Formula One in 1981. After giving it a try, he decided he didn't like it.

  • Mears' worst finish at Indy was 30th in 1981. He completed only 58 laps before being burned in a pit fire. He suffered facial burns, but avoided serious injury when his father Bill doused the invisible flames.

  • In 1982, Mears led the Indy 500 for 72 laps. However, he lost to Gordon Johncock by 16-hundredths of a second.

  • It wasn't until Mears won at Indy a second time, in 1984, that he fully appreciated the accomplishment. "When I won in 1979, it didn't soak in until a week later," he said. "This year I tried to soak it in before the race was over."

  • After Mears' accident on Sept. 7, 1984, outside Montreal, one doctor described Mears' right foot as "a bag of mush." His left foot wasn't much better -- half the bones were broken. "Dr. Trammell told me I'd set a record: My feet were the worst he'd ever seen on a person who was still alive," Mears said.

  • While Mears was injured, car owner Roger Penske replaced him with Al Unser Sr. When Mears was ready to return, he stepped aside for two races to let Unser continue toward the CART/PPG Indy car championship.

  • In 1991, Mears became the first Indy car driver to surpass $10 million in career earnings.

  • Besides winning the Indy 500 in 1991, Mears won the Marlboro 500, making him the first driver in nine years to win both 500 mile races in the same season.

  • He finished in the top 10 in Indy car points for 14 consecutive seasons.

  • Mears' last career victory came at Brooklyn, Mich., in 1991.

  • Of Mears' $11,050,807 career earnings, $4,299,392 came at Indy.

  • Besides having the most pole positions (six) at the Indy 500, other records held for the race by Mears include most times starting on the front row (11) and most consecutive times starting on the front row (six).

  • Mears retired with the most pole positions (15) in 500-mile races.

  • His hobbies include deep sea fishing, golf and working on motorcycles.

  • Mears has two sons, Clint and Cole, from his marriage to wife Dina. They divorced in 1983.

  • Mears met Chris Bowen less than a month after his separation from Dina. He married Bowen in 1986.

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