The Indianapolis 500 legend who never used a spotter in his driving days is now adjusting to not being the most famous spotter at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Rick Mears, the four-time “500” winner, said he stepped down from his longtime perch atop Turn 3 because it was getting more difficult for his 69-year-old eyes to differentiate the cars approaching at better than 220 mph.
Mears also decided to reduce his travel schedule and work from pit road when he was with Team Penske as its official advisor. This week, Mears has been in the pits of the team’s rookie driver, Scott McLaughlin, listening to the radio communication with his engineer, Jonathan Diuguid.
The irony of Mears’ long run as a spotter is that he has never been a fan of drivers having someone serving as an extra set of eyes. Yes, Mears supports the use of spotters in the name of safety, particularly in a sport with incredible closing rates, but he wishes the drivers could develop the spatial awareness to work alone.
“That’s my job,” he said of driving the car. “If I do a better job in traffic than someone else, then I’ve earned it. With a spotter, you’re helping (other drivers) do what I’m doing, and I’ve lost a tool.”
At IMS, drivers use spotters in Turns 1 and 3, and they help them know when they have cleared the car they are overtaking. But Mears said that logic is flawed.
“If a driver knows what’s going on, he can get into a hole before I can ever tell him (it’s open),” he said. “If the driver waits for (the spotter’s clearance), that hole might have already closed.”
Mears said he has preached that message to young drivers he has worked with over the years.
“I always had to sell it as an advantage, which is to not (rely on the spotter),” he said. “A driver has to think for himself.”
Mears doesn’t remember when his spotting career began, but one of his earliest stints was with Gil de Ferran. Mears was positioned high in Turn 2, and he remembers working through the crowd to exit only to find his golf cart missing.
For years, Mears worked with Helio Castroneves, although Mears said the Brazilian who won three “500s” didn’t need – or want – much radio information from his spotters around the track.
“Helio was great; he was old school,” Mears said. “He was pretty aware of what was going on around him at all times.”
In typical Mears fashion, he has smoothly made this location transition, largely because he is a good listener and excels at processing information. Hearing McLaughlin and Diuguid communicate allows him to “build a picture,” and then he offers his intel when they regroup back in the garage.
“By doing it this way, I can think of more suggestions with (driving) lines and patterns,” Mears said. “When we sit down and think about what the car is doing and how it’s doing it, I can say, ‘This is how you can help that – (with) a later entry, further around the corner, enter shallower.’
“I’m no longer helping in immediate time, but I’m helping more when (McLaughlin) starts thinking about race craft and that kind of stuff.”
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is celebrating Mears on the 30th anniversary of his epic fourth “500” victory. The exhibit runs through March 2022.
Paretta: Safety, Competition Will Drive Crew Selection
Paretta Autosport is working with a host of women aspiring for a role in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, but team owner Beth Paretta said Wednesday that the over-the-wall crew for Simona De Silvestro’s No. 16 Rocket Pro TPO Chevrolet in this Indianapolis 500 will be comprised of the most qualified individuals.
“We’ll see as the week goes on who may go over the wall,” Paretta said of the women joining her at Wednesday’s availability in IMS’ DEX Imaging Media Center. “Here’s the thing: If we have zero women over the wall for the Indy 500, you’ll see them at the (team’s) next race. It’s all about progress.
“Just the fact that you see this lineup and how far we’ve gotten in these four months (since announcing the program), that’s how I’m measuring our progress. Every time we can integrate and add one more woman in a key role, that’s what we’re going to get to.
“Is it going to be 100 percent (women) over the wall? No. We’re going to prioritize safety and competition.”
Odds and Ends
- Max Chilton, the driver of the No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet, ranked as high as second on the day’s no-tow report, which factors out cars driving in the draft. He finished third at 220.799 mph. Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi led that category at 221.114 mph in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda.
- Two of Ed Carpenter Racing’s cars had the fastest trap speeds at the end of the front straightaway. Conor Daly was first in the No. 47 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet (237.978 mph), with Ed Carpenter second in the No. 20 SONAX Chevrolet (236.833 mph).
- Carpenter had the quote of the day: “I think there are more cars looking good than not.” And Carpenter followed it up with this quote about INDYCAR having five different winners in the first five race. “I was getting tired of Scott (Dixon) winning all of the races,” he said, jokingly, as Dixon sat at the same press conference podium.
- Tony Kanaan and Jimmie Johnson have been sharing the No. 48 entry of Chip Ganassi Racing this season, but they have yet to be at the same track at the same time. That changes at IMS when Johnson is here to broadcast the “500” with NBC.
- Juan Pablo Montoya, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner driving the No. 86 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, might have offered the best advice to the less-experienced teams in the paddock. “It’s a long week ahead,” he said. “There’s many ways you can screw it up, so try to avoid most of them.”
- Linda Price, a friendly face and tireless worker in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Ticket Office since 1976, waved the green flag to start practice today. Price is retiring at the end of this year after nearly a half-century of serving IMS ticket holders.