We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With seven days to go, correspondent Phillip B. Wilson spent a few minutes with four-time champion Rick Mears on Gasoline Alley to talk about the 100th, his place in history and favorite IMS memory.
Phillip B. Wilson: What are your thoughts about being here for the 100th and how much it means?
Rick Mears: The first thing is, I can’t believe it’s been 25 years since my last win, the 75th. All the tradition of this place and everything, the 100th just brings it to the front more. The tradition and history around here is incredible anyway. Like I said early on, I didn’t understand it as much. As you get a little older and wiser, and it just keeps going. Now, we’re making more tradition with the 100th running. We just keep adding to it and keep building. It’s just an incredible feeling. It’s great the buzz that it has created, the turnout that we’re getting.
Obviously a lot of it is the 100th, but I think we’ve been on a growth path anyway the last five or six years, from spotting up on the top in Turn 3 on Race Day, the stands have been filling up pretty good for a while, but the infield on the mounds, you can physically see it every year get more and more packed. Last year was the best I’ve seen it. This year is going to be incredibly more. We’re adding to the tradition and the spike, even though we’re on that path anyway, the spike from this is going to be even better and I think it will carry some over afterward, which is what we all need.
PW: That’s one of my favorite Mears quotes, one of the things I love about you, you’ve always said you really didn’t have any idea (when you won first Indy 500).
RM: (Laughs.) I didn’t.
PW: I’m just going to race and go fast, and what’s this other stuff about?
RM: We were just having fun, doing what we enjoy.
PW: Maybe that helped you, not knowing?
RM: It did. I can look back and see how it helped. I didn’t design a plan to get here. I wasn’t trying to get here. But when I look back on it with 20-20 hindsight, I can see the things we did to make it happen, although I wasn’t doing it for that reason. One of the main things that helped, because I wasn’t trying to get here, I didn’t have one foot over here and one foot over there. Whatever I was playing with at the time, driving, my 100 percent focus was in that, not half of it thinking about something else. That 100 percent focus created a good result. And that good result is what created the next opportunity. And it snowballed.
PW: Juan Pablo Montoya had that Mears quote last week. He said he really doesn’t think about it, that’s why it works for him.
RM: Yeah, once even though we got here and ran and learned the tradition, even the first years when I didn’t know anything about the tradition, the pressure was still there. It’s not brain surgery to know it’s the Super Bowl, even if you don’t know the tradition. The pressure was there immediately in that respect. That’s what I’ve always tried to do, just keep it as another race on another track and not let the pressures get to you.
PW: Where does Rick Mears fit into the history of the Indy 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
RM: That’s for other people to decide, not me. They put me in that position. I don’t. You can try to create your own position. Some guys try to do that. (Laughs.)
PW: When the winners get together and you’re looking at the other guys with the rings, that’s a pretty unique club?
RM: It is. Even though we’ve got the four wins like they do, I’ll never feel like I’m equal to them (A.J. Foyt and Al Unser) just because they were here first and they were my heroes. How can you be better than your hero? Or even equal. I don’t understand how that works.
PW: You’re wearing the “Roger Penske 50” hat. I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you what it means to be here celebrating his 50th anniversary, although I realize he probably doesn’t say two words about it.
RM: It’s fantastic. We’ve talked about the 50th leading up to this, but it’s hard to visualize it. That’s what is so great about the Penske display at the (IMS) Museum, we went over there for the opening and I walked in and got a look at everything. Now I can visualize it. You can’t really visualize 50 years, but the display there does it for you. It’s a big deal. Roger, it’s always about going forward, not backward, but it means a lot to him, too. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on it, but it means a great deal to him.
PW: That’s for later on when sitting on a front porch, if Roger Penske ever sits on a porch?
RM: That’s what I’ve always said about records. I’ll think about those when I’m sitting on a rocking chair somewhere.
PW: How old are you?
RM: Sixty-four? Sixty-five? (He’s 64.)
PW: Do you feel it?
RM: No. I mean, I feel it when I try to get out of bed in the mornings. (Laughs.)
PW: You look good.
RM: We’re hanging in there.
PW: You almost look like you could still get in a car and maybe turn left?
RM: No, no, no.
PW: OK, let’s finish this strong. What’s your favorite memory at the Speedway?
RM: It’s the fourth “500” win.
PW: When did you know you had it?
RM: I never know I’ve got it until I get past pit in on the checkered flag.
PW: What goes through your head then?
RM: It’s just all the emotions, you can’t explain it. To be honest, I didn’t even think about it being the fourth because I never go into them thinking about how many. It was just, “We won it. We won.” It wasn’t, “We won again.” That’s why we’re here, to win. That’s the whole point. That’s really all you’re thinking about. I wasn’t thinking about the number. What made the fourth more special was after the fact. It’s all the things combined. None of them are as special at the time they’re happening. It’s after you sit back, get out and look at everything involved. That’s when you start ranking them, so to speak, and putting them in a place.
Like I’ve said before, the first one has its place because it was the first. It always will. But I didn’t know the tradition. I didn’t know how difficult it was. It was our second attempt. So that made the second one better. It was the same for making the third one better, you learn more about the history and everything else. And then the fourth one, again, all of that in itself made it more special. And then having the shootout (with Michael Andretti) at the end (in 1991) is what capped that off. You always gear for the shootout. Every race I gear for the shootout. That’s the plan. Be ready to have the battle with whoever is going to be your biggest competitor at the end of the race. Of the four wins, the shootout only materialized one time. To be able to have the shootout and come out on top and being the fourth, all that combined, makes it more special.
PW: And you were sure you had the outside of Turn 1 on that late pass?
RM: Was I sure? No. I was never sure until we got out the other side. That was unknown territory. You look at the telemetry, it was the fastest we had been in that corner all day. That’s when you do it. That’s when you roll the dice.