The 92nd running of the Indy 500 takes place on Sunday with Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon favoured to score Chip Ganassi’s first win at the ‘Brickyard’ since Juan Montoya turned the trick in 2000. Dixon and Wheldon will start from the pole and the middle of the front row with Penske driver Ryan Briscoe on the outside. Penske team-mate Helio Castroneves starts on the inside of row two with Danica Patrick beside him and Tony Kanaan on the outside of the second row, and this year’s 500 is expected to be a three-team race between Ganassi, Penske and Andretti-Green.
Meanwhile, I had the great pleasure to sit beside four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears at the Speedway on Wednesday afternoon as we signed copies of my new book, ‘Rick Mears – Thanks, the story of Rick Mears and the Mears Gang’. Rick was one of the finest oval track racers of all-time and more than a few respectful fans congratulated him on being, ‘the best driver I ever saw at this place.’
Rick Mears and author Gordon Kirby sign copies of the new book, “Thanks. The Story of Rick Mears and the Mears Gang”
In fifteen starts at Indianapolis between 1978-92, Rick won four times, finished second once and come home third two times. He also took six Indy poles and led 492 laps in all. Rick deliberately used his natural inclination to be as silky smooth as possible to keep pushing the limit.
“I always tried to be smooth and I think that helped on the faster tracks, on the speedways,” he says. “By not being erratic you can run closer to the limit more consistently without stepping over it. If you’re erratic, you’ve got to give yourself more of a cushion, so your average overall isn’t going to be as quick. If you’re smooth and run closer to the limit, lap after lap, it adds up. I think that was more my natural style.
“The cars talk to you and you have to listen to them. If you don’t listen to them, you’re going to step over the limit.”
Incredibly, Rick did not spin a car during his first five years with Penske. “It was making me nervous that I hadn’t spun one because I saw other guys doing it, and I thought, ‘What am I leaving on the table?’ I knew I was going to spin sometime. Obviously, I didn’t want it to happen. Back then, if you spun, they frowned on it. Today, they frown on it if you don’t spin once in a while. That’s the difference in the competition level today and the mindset, which is if you don’t do something wrong once in a while you must not be trying hard enough. But back then; it was the other way around.
“So I didn’t want to spin and when I did finally spin it, I realised that I had been very, very close a lot of times, a lot of times! I was just fortunate it hadn’t happened. That was when I realised I wasn’t leaving a lot on the table.
“That’s what this sport is all about and always has been,” he adds. “It’s a continuous learning curve, no matter how long you’ve been doing it. If you quit learning, that’s when it’s time to get out.”
Which is what he did in the middle of 1992 when he realised he was losing the desire to push to the maximum. Mears made the decision to retire from racing at the height of his powers, an uncommon and sage decision from one of the greatest oval racers we’ve ever seen.