Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears is still a visible presence at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a consultant for Team Penske. The engaging legend recently chatted with IMS.com Correspondent Phillip B. Wilson about a wide range of topics, some racing- related, like putting in perspective his four Indy 500 wins, and some not.
PW: How’s life?
RM: “Good. All good. Can’t complain.”
PW: Beyond racing, what’s going on with you, anything?
RM: “No, nothing really. Just same old stuff. It’s what I enjoy doing. I’m still involved. I still try to help out if I can. I’m still enjoying it.”
PW: How has perspective changed as you get older and wiser?
RM: “It hasn’t changed much really. It’s all pretty much the same. The sport changes, obviously, and the cars and all that, but the basics are still the same. You’re still trying to balance the car, you’re still trying to get those four footprints on the ground and make it work better than everybody else’s. That doesn’t change. How we measure it and look at it and adapt to it changes, but you’re still trying to do the basic things.”
PW: How much do you think back to your four Indy 500 wins? Or does something have to happen to trigger a memory?
RM: “Yeah, I don’t dwell on them by any means. I still look at that kind of like what I’ve always said about looking at records. I didn’t do it for records. Records are something when I’m sitting in a rocking chair on a porch with nothing to do, that’s when I think about it.”
PW: I can’t see you in a rocking chair. Can you see yourself in a rocking chair?
RM: “Not yet. That’s why I’m not thinking about it. (Laughs.) I feel like I need to be in one sometimes.”
PW: My father was a Mario Andretti fan. I grew up an A.J. Foyt fan.
RM: “I’m an A.J. Foyt fan, too.”
PW: But some suggest you’re still the coolest dude at IMS?
RM: “Well, I appreciate that.”
PW: But you don’t own that?
RM: “No. No.”
PW: Just a compliment? Don’t talk about yourself?
PW: What’s your favorite breakfast food?
RM: “Those questions I’ve never been good at. Everything depends. Any favorite anything is not one thing. I used to get mad every time I got those forms in the mail to fill out for different articles and magazines. Finally, (ex-wife) Chris would just fill ‘em out because she knew they would drive me nuts. She got tired of hearing the answers.”
(Mears notices a video screen in garage showing footage of his 1992 practice crash at IMS.)
“There I am, upside down. That’s what not to do,” he said to Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud.
PW: What do you remember about that wreck?
RM: “I remember all of it.”
PW: Time didn’t stop or slow down?
RM: “It did, that’s how you remember all of it, because it does slow down.”
PW: Back to favorites.
RM: “What’s your favorite color? It depends. On my car? On my house? On my boat? What’s it on? Because I don’t like the same color on my car as I like on my house. My favorites change and my favorites depend. And it never stays the same. I used to like another color on a car. Today, I like another color on a car. What’s my favorite movie? The last one I liked. It’s always changing, at least for me anyway. Mears, it depends. End of story.”
PW: Now Depends is going to call your for an endorsement.
RM: “That’s why those things have always driven me crazy because I can’t give a solid answer. What’s your favorite music? It depends on the mood I’m in. Sometimes I like rock, sometimes I like classical, sometimes I like instrumental.”
PW: When’s the last time you swore?
RM: “Probably just before you walked in, I don’t know.”
PW: Where do you live?
RM: “I’m in Florida. I’ve been there since 1992. I built a home there and made a residence there.”
PW: How is Florida different than California?
RM: “I did it for the water, it’s much flatter, warmer, clearer, more marine life, versus the West Coast like California, where it’s colder, larger ground swell. In Florida, you’ve got the intercoastal, if the wind kicks up and it’s a little sloppy out and you want to go on a boat ride, you can still go up and down the intercoastal and have the dock at the house and the boat there and you don’t have to travel to a harbor to get to it.”
PW: What kind of boat do you have?
RM: “I don’t know. I’ve had several over the years.”
PW: Is that the ultimate getaway?
RM: “It has been off and on over the years, because I jump around. I’ve got a couple of Jet-Skis that I play with. I’ve got a place in Charlotte, a little boat there and a Jet-Ski that I play with on a lake. My hobbies always shift. Fish for a while, golf for a while, boat for a while. It just depends.”
PW: No favorites?
RM: “No favorites. My favorite is the one I’m doing at the time. So the favorite depends on when it is.”
PW: How special is it to come back to IMS each May?
RM: “There’s no other place like it. It’s the Super Bowl. It’s the whatever-you-want-to-call-it.”
PW: You’ve got a diverse group of drivers now at Team Penske, a Frenchman, an Australian, Brazilian and Colombian. Pretty wild? Or do they all speak the same racing language?
RM: “They all speak the same language, and that’s competitive. They’re all competitors. They all want to accomplish the same thing. That’s what they’re here for.”
PW: Which Indy 500 winner’s ring are you wearing?
RM: “1991. Always wear the latest.”
PW: But don’t say that’s your favorite?
RM: “That I can say it is my favorite. No question. It was due to several reasons. The first one will always have its place, being the first one. Then after you go for a while after getting the first one, you look around and you start realizing you’re older and wiser and you start realizing how many people are there who have never won it, and how many guys who have been here and never won it and never will. You start realizing it’s more difficult than you thought. That puts a little more emphasis on the second one. Then you win a second one, you look around, you get a little older and wiser, now very few people have won it three times. What are the odds of that happening? Then you win it a third time, by then, it’s getting to the end of your career. You’re no dummy. You don’t know how many more years you’re going to run. So opportunities are going to be maybe less time wise. Now you look at the record book, and only two guys had ever won it four times. Now the odds are even slimmer of that happening. That raises it another level. That made the fourth one more important on its own, more gratifying. Then the way the race was won made it even more gratifying.”
PW: You passed Michael Andretti on the outside of Turn 1 in ‘91. That was memorable. You ever think about if you would have won five times?
RM: “No. I never think about a boat bigger than I can own. I don’t like disappointment. That’s why I’ve never been a goal-setter. I don’t like setting an unrealistic goal that I might not make.”