Time Capsule Tuesday - Rick Mears

April 12, 2016

As the decade of the 70s came to a close, Team Penske had become one of the premier race teams in the world. They owned wins in sports car, NASCAR, INDYCAR and Formula 1 competition. The untimely death of the team’s lead driver and original champion, Mark Donohue, following a practice accident for the 1975 Formula 1 Grand Prix of Austria had shaken the foundation, but the team emerged from the tragedy as strong as ever.

Enter a talented, former off-road racer from Bakersfield, California who just needed to be placed with the right team at the right time to unleash his potential. 

His name? Rick Mears. 

Mears made his first start for Team Penske in the 1978 Jimmy Bryan 150 at Phoenix International Raceway and from the very beginning many around the sport could see that this would be a successful match of driver and team. Six races later, he would score his first career win at The Milwaukee Mile. Two more wins over the course of his partial schedule in 1978 set Mears up for big things the following season.

On May 28, 1979, Mears scored the first of his record-tying four wins in the Indianapolis 500. That year he also won his first of three INDYCAR titles on the strength of three wins that year. He was truly a star on the rise. 

Mears’ career, however, was nearly derailed in a serious crash at Sanair Superspeedway in Quebec, Canada in 1984. The accident badly damaged Mears’ feet and Canadian doctors wanted to amputate one of them, but Roger Penske did not agree with that assessment. He flew with Mears on a helicopter back to the United States where another team of doctors were not only able to see his feet, but they got Mears back to being a championship-caliber driver. 

Over the course of the 1980s, Mears became a star and a true American icon. 26 wins and two more Indianapolis 500 victories during that time made him one of the most-successful INDYCAR drivers in history. 

Mears’ final Indianapolis 500 win came in the 1991 running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and made him the driver to reach the famed four-win plateau in the least amount of starts, just 14 of them. His six pole positions are also the most in the history of the race. 

Mears retired from driving following the 1992 season. He ended his illustrious career with 29 wins and 40 pole positions, both still stand in the top 11 in INDYCAR history despite his short career by the standards of today’s driver longevity. 

But, more importantly, it was the way he carried himself throughout his spectacular career. No driver has personified ‘The Penske Way’ more than Mears. He continues to work with the current crop of Team Penske INDYCAR drivers – Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud – as he continues to impact the team in a positive way.