The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum proudly announces the Sunday, May 2 opening of its new featured exhibit honoring one of the Indianapolis 500’s living legends: “Rocket Rick Mears presented by Racemaker Press.”
Mears earned a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory in 1991 – a race also remembered for his fierce duel with Michael Andretti in the waning laps, highlighted by the drivers’ making daring, dramatic outside passes for the lead. Mears’ likeness also is forever cast in sterling silver on the Borg-Warner Trophy for victories in 1979, 1984 and 1988.
When Wichita, Kansas, native Mears joined the lofty four-time ‘500’ winners club, he earned the right to stand alongside two titans of motorsports history, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser.
However, Mears can claim a pair of bragging rights over those legends: Mears earned victory No. 4 in only his 14th “500” start, while Foyt earned his historic fourth win in his 20th Indy start, and Unser achieved four-time glory in his 22nd start. And 30 years after earning his final Indianapolis 500 pole position, Mears still holds the record for the most-career “500” poles, with six (1979, ’82, ’86, ’88, ’89, ’91).
Rocket Rick Mears presented by Racemaker Press takes IMS Museum guests on a personal journey, giving context to Mears’ formative years and what molded the man, the driver and humble champion. The story begins when as a child, Mears watched his father, Bill, race on Kansas short tracks, followed by the family’s move to the hot, Southern California oil and agricultural town of Bakersfield. It was there that Mears and his older brother, Roger, started racing dune buggies for fun, but soon became off-road racing champions.
The star attractions of “Rocket Rick,” however, will be the artifacts and race cars central to his career, including:
- Mears’ Indy-winning cars: the 1979 Gould Charge Penske PC6; the 1984 Pennzoil Z7 March 84C; the 1988 Pennzoil Penske PC17 and the 1991 Marlboro Penske PC20.
- The 1982 Gould Charge PC10, part of the famous 1982 Indy 500 race-ending duel between Mears and Gordon Johncock, who beat Mears by only .16 of a second.
- The 1977 Eastside Café Special Eagle – the car in which Mears first attempted to qualify at Indianapolis but wasn’t fast enough.
- Mears’ 1976 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb-winning car and several examples of Roger and Rick’s championship off-road racing vehicles.
Rocket Rick Mears presented by Racemaker Press also will come to life through historic video, photographs and artifacts from the IMS Museum collection, plus items loaned by Mears, the Penske collection, and other collectors.
IMS Museum visitors will walk away from Rocket Rick Mears presented by Racemaker Press with a greater appreciation for “The Mears Gang” – the importance of Rick’s father, brother and mother, Skip, in his career development, plus Mears’ “have fun” approach to racing. Instead of treating racing as a pressure-packed vocation, Mears made a conscious choice to enjoy it, and this philosophy contributed to his success, as well as an early retirement.
Visitors also will learn about Mears’ early struggles to gain a foothold in IndyCar racing and the role motorsports safety legend Bill Simpson played in giving Mears the chance to showcase his talent.
Equally important in the Mears’ legacy is the story of his grit and determination to overcome serious injuries: first, a 1980 pit fire that left him with facial burns, and a 1984 crash that nearly took both feet.
Finally, IMS Museum guests will enjoy reliving the Mears-Team Penske dynasty, from team owner Roger Penske’s hiring of Mears for the 1978 season, to Mears’ surprise retirement announcement at the 1992 Team Penske Christmas party, and his continuing impact on the NTT IndyCar Series as a driver consultant, coach and mentor for Team Penske.
Rocket Rick Mears presented by Racemaker Press will be the IMS Museum’s featured exhibit through March 2022.