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Rick Mears

Dominated Racing In The 1980s

The Indianapolis 500 is the most popular auto race among the general public and one of the most coveted championships among drivers. The track is called "The Brickyard" because it was paved with bricks when it was first built. Only a year after his debut, Mears returned to the Indianapolis 500 in 1979 to win both the coveted pole position and the championship. By this time Mears had competed in twenty-two Indy car races and he had never spun out in an Indy car either during a race or a practice session. Mears finished the year by clinching the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) national championship.


1951 Born on December 3 in Wichita, Kansas
1973 Wins several off-roading championships
1973 Son Clint Ravon is born
1974 Wins several Formula Vee and Super Vee races
1975 Son Cole Ray is born
1976 Meets Roger Penske
1976 Wins United States Auto Club Rookie of the Year award
1978 Becomes substitute driver on Penske's team
1978 Wins first Indy car championship in Milwaukee
1978 Races in first Indianapolis 500
1978 Named Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year
1979 Wins pole position at Indianapolis 500
1979 Wins first Indianapolis 500 race
1979 Wins first Championship Auto Racing Team National Championship
1982 Suffers facial burns in a pit fire at an Indianapolis 500 practice session
1984 Wins second Indianapolis 500 race
1984 Crashes at Sanair Speedway, badly injuring both feet
1986 Marries Christyn Bowen
1988 Wins third Indianapolis 500 race
1991 Crashes for the first time at the Indianapolis 500 during a practice session
1991 Wins fourth Indianapolis 500 race
1992 Crashes in Indianapolis 500 practice session and race
1992 Retires from driving
1992 Becomes adviser and driving coach for Team Penske
1992 Forms Indy Light team with brother Roger
2002 Divorces Christyn Bowen
2002 Enters alcohol treatment program

Mears continued to be successful on the CART circuit. In addition to mastering the oval tracks, Mears was the only Indy car driver to win every road course event in one season. Once again he earned the most points of the year to become CART national champion. He held the title for 1982 as well. In 1982 Mears won the pole position at the Indianapolis 500 for the second time. This was quite an accomplishment considering that Mears had suffered burns on his face from a pit fire earlier in the week. Mears came close to winning his second Indianapolis 500 title, but he was beaten by Gordon Johncock by only sixteen hundredths of a second. Mears was vindicated two years later when he won his second title at the Brickyard in 1984. He was racing against the pole winner, Tom Sneva, in the final laps of the competition when Sneva experienced car trouble. "When I won in 1979, I didn't know what it meant to win the Indy 500," Mears told Sam Moses of Sports Illustrated in June of 1984. "I didn't soak it in until a week later. This year I tried to soak it in before the race was over."

Mears earned a reputation as a safe driver who was always in control of his car. "He's a natural who rarely makes a wrong move," wrote Sam Moses of Sports Illustrated in June of 1984. However, Mears' luck ran out in 1984. During a practice session at the Sanair Super Speedway near Montreal, Canada in September of 1984, the two-time Indianapolis champion clipped another car and spun into a guardrail. The accident crushed both of his feet. His feet were so badly damaged that doctors were afraid they might have to amputate. Fortunately Penske was able to bring in Dr. Terry Trammell, an orthopedic surgeon from Indianapolis, who was able to save Mears' feet. It was still uncertain as to whether Mears would be able to walk again, let alone drive. However, Mears was convinced that as long as his feet were still there, he would return to driving. Mears divorced his first wife in 1983 and during his recovery in 1984 he became acquainted with Christyn Bowen, whom he had met the previous year at a Penske party. She became his second wife in 1986.

In 1985 Mears returned to racing with a vengeance. Although his weak ankles made shifting gears difficult, Mears did not let his injuries deter his desire to drive and to win. In 1985 he won the Pocono 500 race, and he repeated this victory in 1987. In 1986 he not only captured the pole position at the Indianapolis 500 for the third time, but he also set a closed course Indy car speed record of 233.934 miles per hour at the Michigan International Speedway. In 1988 Mears managed to win both the pole position and the race at the Indianapolis 500, which was his third victory at the Brickyard. It was also the seventh victory for Penske, making him the car owner with the most victories.

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