THROWBACK THURSDAY: Mears' 81 and 82 Titles

May 19, 2016

Team Penske will be celebrating our 50th anniversary in motorsports in 2016. To bring you some of the terrific stories of our five-decade run of excellence, Team Penske is running weekly online features highlighting some of our drivers and our key events. We hope you enjoy this memorable time in our history.

Throwback Thursday - Mears' 1981 and 1982 Championships

Pick a sport and championships come in all shapes and sizes. The memorable ones are those that come in unlikely circumstances, such as the 1969 New York Jets, and those that come in dominating fashion, like the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. The CART championships won in 1981 and 1982 by Rick Mears fall into the dominating category.

Over the two seasons Mears won 10 of his 21 starts and finished on the podium 14 times. The 1981 season saw the product of Bakersfield, California, take the checkered flag six times in 10 outings. He won four of 11 starts the following season. Oddly, none of his record-tying four Indianapolis 500 wins came in those two seasons. The 500, however, did not count in the standings in that era.

Mears didn’t collect his first win in 1981 until the third event of the season – in June at Atlanta – in which he made a pass on Johnny Rutherford in the closing laps to launch his championship run. He closed the season with three victories in in the final four events to outdistance Bill Alsup in the standings by 129 points, despite missing the Milwaukee race after suffering an injury at Indianapolis. He won just one pole but had an average starting position of 4.0. More impressive, though, was his average finish of 2.3. It’s also worth noting that his 181 laps led on the season tied for third-most in the series. In his late season, three-race win streak, Mears led just over 28 percent of the laps. Beyond a pair of Atlanta victories, Mears’ additional wins came at Riverside, California, Michigan, Watkins Glen and Mexico City.

The 1982 season got off to a quicker start for Mears as he triumphed in the first two events of the year at Phoenix and Atlanta. His other two wins came in the seventh and eighth events of the campaign at Pocono and Riverside. While he didn’t win with the regularity of the prior season, his four victories paced all drivers. Qualifying in 1982 was a different story, too. Mears scored eight pole wins in 11 tries to accumulate an amazing average starting position of 1.7, while going on to lead a series-best 746 laps. His worst starting spot of the season was fifth in a July 4 event in Cleveland. At the end of the year, he held a 52-point advantage over Bobby Rahal despite three DNFs on the year. Out of 11 races, Mears finished on the podium six times.

Mears also won the 1979 CART title and was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1998.