TODD TODD TODD

When maestro Mears talks Indy, everyone listens

Updated: 

The Beatles and the Beach Boys turned to transcendental meditation master Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for inspiration.

For the past 25 years, race drivers have their own guru: Rick Mears, known in racing circles as “Rocket Rick.”   

Mears, the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time Indy car season champion, has informed, groomed and directed racers from around the world. His work at Team Penske, where he continues to serve as adviser to current and future stars, has become the Bible of racing. Particularly on ovals, where Mears was unmatched.  

“It’s been a great honor to work with Rick,” said Team Penske veteran Helio Castroneves, who has driven for the team since 2000 and counts Indy 500 victories in 2001, ‘02 and ‘09. “He has taught me so much.”

At 66, Mears is as passionate, astute and compelling about the sport of open-wheel racing as ever.

On Friday, Mears toured the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, stopping by the INDYCAR display with another current Team Penske driver, Will Power. They were on hand to talk about the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, the only doubleheader race weekend on the 2018 schedule and an event promoted by Roger Penske’s group set for June 1-3.

If Power, the 2014 series champ, was the talent walking the floor, Mears was the maestro in attendance. Power is still seeking his first Indy 500 win. Mears accomplished the feat in 1979, ‘84, ‘88 and ‘91, and could have notched more victories at the Brickyard had he not retired in 1992.

Mears has been instrumental in guiding Penske drivers Castroneves, Gil de Ferran, Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya to Indy 500 victories. He is as committed to his role at the team as when he joined as a driver. 

Power has five top-10 finishes in the Indy 500, with a best of second in 2015. The 36-year-old Australian said he takes in all of Mears’ wisdom that he can when it comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

“I’ve asked him all the questions,” Power said. “There’s nothing more he can tell me. Up to me now.”

Mears remains the oracle of the Indy 500 – the wizard of Indianapolis with most poles (six), most wins from pole (three), most front-row starts (11) and most consecutive front-row starts (six) in race history.

When Mears talks racing in his relaxed and friendly manner, it pays to listen. On the “livelier” new car for 2018 with its universal aero kit, he offered:

“It’s a great-looking car. It’s got less rear downforce … and lets me do more work as a driver. I think you’ve been seeing this in testing with the guys saying, ‘This is a lot of fun and I have more input as a driver.’

“It is going to create better racing. In my time, I liked having a little less downforce and more power. It was kind of fun to keep that throttle down … trying to get the car hooked up. That gave me more tools to work with and I could make a bigger difference in the car.”

Mears has no aspirations to test out the new car himself – at least, not on the track.

“I drove the simulator the other day,” he admitted. “First time I’ve been back in anything. I actually did 225 (mph) at Indy … I told them (the car had) too much downforce.’’

When asked how Danica Patrick may fare in her plan to conclude her racing career at this year’s Indianapolis 500, the media scrum was all ears for Mears’ response. Patrick has secured GoDaddy as her sponsor but has yet to announce the team for which she will drive.

“She’ll be competitive, for sure,” Mears said. “The new car is going to make it a little bit different as far as stepping back into it (at Indy) right away. I think the older car would have been a little bit easier to do, but she’ll have a good team, good equipment and she’s talented. So, she’s not going to have any trouble.

“Can’t wait to see her.”


From the fans