Respected By His Peers
Despite all of his success, Mears did not garner as much public attention as other drivers of his time, such as the Unsers, the Andrettis, A.J. Foyt, or Emerson Fittipaldi. While other drivers were known for their aggressiveness, Mears was a calm and patient driver. "If my car is not working well, I try to let everybody else dictate the pace and work on not going a lap down," Mears explained his racing strategy to David Phillips of Auto Week in June of 1991. "If the car is good, I'll run at about 80 percent and just try to keep the leaders in sight." This laid-back attitude led the media to call him boring. "Rick Mears has fans, but not passionate followers. He has style, but not charisma," wrote Bruce Lowitt of the St. Petersburg Times in May of 1989. However, it was his skills that have earned Mears respect as a driver. "What makes Rick so great is his credibility with his peers," Penske told Sam Moses of Sports Illustrated in June of 1988. "Walking down pit row, you can't find a guy who doesn't have high praise for him, both as a driver and a man."
Mears won the most Indy car victories of any driver in the 1980s and was named Driver of the Decade by the Associated Press. However, Mears was not finished setting records yet. In 1991 he won the pole position at the Indianapolis 500 for a record-setting sixth time and he won the race for the fourth time. He tied A.J. Foyt and Al Unser, Sr. for the most wins at the Brickyard. He is also the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500 from the pole position three times.
In 1992 Mears set out for his 15th run at the Indianapolis 500. He was looking for his fifth win so that he could become the single driver with the most wins at the Brickyard. Unfortunately, Mears crashed during a practice session. His car slid on water from a broken line and Mears hit the wall. Mears was lucky to escape with only a fractured foot and a sprained wrist. "This is a racetrack where you must be very precise," Mears described the Brickyard to the Toronto Star in May of 1986. "And at the speeds we're running at there, one mistake is all you get." He was able to compete on race day, but he finished only twenty-sixth because of another crash.
While Mears was recovering from his injuries he decided that 1992 would be his last year of racing, much to the surprise of his fellow drivers. "I truly admire the man," Mario Andretti told David Phillips and Larry Edsall of Autoweek in December of 1992. "He was a great racer, a real competitor, and it was truly fun to race against him." Although Mears did not win the recordsetting fifth Indianapolis 500, he still made his mark on the racing world. Mears had a total of twenty-nine Indy car victories, including four at the Brickyard. He won the pole position a total of forty times and he won the most pole positions in 500-mile races with fifteen. Mears is also tied in second place for the most career victories in 500-mile races. He was inducted into the International Motosports Hall of Fame in 1997.