In 1991, Rick Mears scored the motorsports crown jewel for the fourth time.
The 1991 Indianapolis 500 was going to be a special event, even before the season began. Preparations had been underway for years preparing for the 75th Diamond Anniversary of the historic race. Little did we know that history would be made in more ways than one. Let us count the ways:
- Rick Mears established an Indianapolis 500 record with his sixth pole position in the famed race, a record that stands today, in a backup car after crashing his primary car during practice.
- Willy T. Ribbs became the first African American driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, starting 29th
- Hiro Matsushita became the first Japanese driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, starting 24th
- Four members of the Andretti family qualified - Mario (3rd), Michael, (5th), John (7th), and Jeff (11th)
- One of the most storied front rows in race history: Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt, and Mario Andretti
And that was just the drama of four days of qualifications!
Michael Andretti took off and dominated the first half of the race. Rick Mears was struggling, and was clinging to stay on the lead lap. The "Andretti Curse" was on the verge of being vanquished once-and-for-all.
The story of the race was attrition, as over half the field dropped out due to mechanical issues, including front-runners Emerson Fittipaldi, Bobby Rahal, and Scott Brayton. With 50 laps left, there were only 13 cars left in the field, with only two cars - Michael Andretti and Rick Mears - on the lead lap.
On a late restart, Michael Andretti made the bold move, passing Mears on the outside of Turn 1 to take the lead. Undaunted, Mears followed suit one lap later, passing Andretti on the outside of Turn 1 to re-take the lead. Mears survived one final caution period and pulled away from Andretti to win his fourth Indianapolis 500, joining A.J. Foyt and Al Unser in the prestigious club of four-time winners.
It is our extreme honor to recognize "Rocket" Rick Mears and the 1991 Indianapolis 500 as this week's Classic Rewind. And what a "diamond" of a race it was! Enjoy!