Rick Mears Recounts First Pole …

Posted: May 21, 2016 in Uncategorized
Photo Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Photo Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

By: Jeff Majeske

INDIANAPOLIS – Rick Mears is arguably the greatest driver in Indianapolis 500 history. He’s tied for the most victories with four (matched earlier by A.J. Foyt and then Al Unser Sr.) and won the most poles (six).

The Bakersfield, California, native’s four victories came in a span of 13 races (1979 to 1991), less than Foyt (17; 1961-77) or Unser (18; 1970-87). Mears’ first Indy pole – first pole of any kind, in fact – came in 1979.

That year, his was the last car eligible for the pole, and he was trying to dislodge Tom Sneva.

Sneva, incidentally, had won the pole in record-shattering fashion the previous two years driving for Roger Penske – who let Sneva go despite winning the national championship in 1977 and 1978.

And just to add a little more drama and pressure, Sneva and Mears were teammates in 1978, when Mears was a rookie and a part-time driver for Penske. For 1979, Mears was full-time and paired with Bobby Unser.

Mears was considered as smooth as he was fast, making his record-breaking four-lap, 10-mile qualifying runs look effortless. His pole effort in 1979 offers a glimpse as to how hard it really was.

“I was still learning the limits,” Mears recounted Friday morning during a press conference. “I was trying to run wide open, and coming through Turn 3 on I think the second lap, I started losing the front end right in the middle of the corner.”

Usually that means the driver is about to crash.

“I thought, ‘Oh, man, this is going to be close. I can either lift and make sure or leave it and hope,’ “ he said.

Mears didn’t lift. And his further explanation gives you some insight as to why Mears is considered by many to be the best ever on ovals.

“When I came around the next lap, going through Turn 3, I was looking at my black mark (from the tire), and I still had about 6, 8 inches left, so I had a lot more room out there than I thought,” he said.

Six to 8 inches of margin. At nearly 200 mph.

“I thought I was going to bounce off the fence off of Turn 3, but we made it, we cleared it,” Mears said. “When I came in and saw those smiles on all the guys’ faces, to me it was kind of payback for all the hard work they do.”

 

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