By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – If you were to ask Rick Mears about his racing career, you’ll learn right away he never dreamt about competing at Indianapolis. Racing happened to be a family recreation until a snowball effect kicked into high gear.
Once retiring from racing in 1992, Mears was a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. Safe to say, he made a good living in racing. When he was strapping into multiple types of vehicles, Mears concentrated on what’s in front of him. Any distractions would drift him away from giving it his all.
“The big thing for me, when I look at what really took place was because I wasn’t trying to get there or get over here. All my focus was right here on what was in front of me,” said Mears Wednesday.
“With all the focus being there, I was getting the best results I could get out of that because I wasn’t thinking about going over here, dividing my attention. So, getting the most out of that and the best results I could.”
Due to Mears’ approach, driving opportunities became common ground.
“Those results are what created that next opportunity that came by and said, ‘What do you think about trying this,'” said Mears. “It just happened. It was actually going that direction and I didn’t really even realize it. All I did was what I love doing.
“If I look back, with 20/20 hindsight, I can see things that happen in the way that we did things that helped make it happen,” Mears added. “But I wasn’t doing it back then for that reason and I didn’t plan any of that. I just love driving and I wanted to get anything I could.”
Several people, including Bill Simpson and Steve Richardson, approached him to run different vehicles. Even vouch for the California kid to run with racing’s elite in a time when racers in their 20s was unorthodox.
“I could be leading in a championship and whatever I was involved with at the time. Somebody come by and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about trying one of these?’
“You bet,” Mears replied.
“I’d even skip a race to go do it just because I wanted to get anything I could. Looking back, that taught me to adapt quickly to change every time I get in something.
“I always knew that you learn something new and everything you’re in that will relate to what you’re doing or what you’re going to do down the road as it turned out. I can see how those things help make it go forward.”
If there’s one important element to his legacy, adaptation was his philosophical approach. This tool goes back to his off-road racing which helped him hone some of his craft in open wheels.
“Learning to adapt quickly because things change so quickly. You don’t know some of these long tracks, you can’t memorize. It’s not like a racetrack reading,” said Mears. “You can build up to speed and go through a little faster each time. Each lap, you lean on a little more, a little more, a little more until you find the limit and learn it out there.
“You have to learn to get all, you can get out of a corner the one and only time you go through it or the first time you go through it. You have to learn to read things as you approach him. The focus that it takes to do that. Just the focus,” Mears continued.
“Adapting I think is one of the biggest things. Learning to adapt quickly to any situation because this is all about adapting. You’re adapting every lap also.
“Even though it’s the same track, same corners, the change is much more rapid as tires go off, fuel goes down, wind directions change because of the speeds that you’re running. It makes that more sensitive. That learning to adapt in the desert and to change quickly and go with the conditions, I think has always played a big part here.”
Despite being a quick learner, Mears reiterated there was no plans on making racing a living. As he was climbing the ladder, the snowball effect became quite significant.
“I would focus totally on that because I wasn’t thinking about going anywhere else,” Mears explained. “That created the next opportunity down the road and that’s what created the snowball and the community as you grow up the ladder is all connected. It gets smaller group at the top and jumping around the way I did. It had my name popping up in different areas all the time.”
Unbeknownst to Mears, his impact is felt in the motorsports community. They have a museum exhibit in honor of the man who started racing as just a family recreation.