Rick Mears Michael Andretti

No points, no matter.

Other factors serve as motivation in all-star races, as Rick Mears can attest.

In 1991, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Mears was in command of the Marlboro Challenge, a predecessor of sorts to this weekend’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ all-star event, The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge near Palm Springs, California.

Mears was poised to win the 10-driver, 100-mile trophy dash, held that year at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Michael Andretti was in his mirrors on the last lap, stalking but still roughly 10 car lengths behind. Personal gratification wasn’t the only thing Mears was staring at; the purse the first to the checkered flag was to receive, with bonuses, came with $445,000.

Then it happened.

“It just stumbled with a little air pocket,” Mears said last week of his car’s engine.

In a blink, Andretti swerved to the left and blew past, swiping the victory that Mears had seemed so sure of.

“My plan the whole lap was just to keep the hammer down, and (I did) up and over the Corkscrew,” Mears said. “I wanted to gap him so things wouldn’t get wild at the end, and I did that, getting a big enough gap that he wouldn’t be close enough (to pass out of the last corner, which is Turn 11).

“As it turned out, (being that far back) worked out for him. When my car stumbled, he had more room to react and get by me. If he would have been closer, he would have hit me in the ass and bumped me enough to (overcome) that little hiccup.”

Mears sighed.

“Cost me a couple hundred thousand dollars,” he said.

Mears was playing with house money. The year prior, with the Marlboro Challenge at Nazareth Speedway, Emerson Fittipaldi’s late-race lead was lost by yielding too much of the outside line in Turn 1. That wasn’t a place where a pass was expected to happen, but Mears pulled it off and went on to his only win in the event.

The Marlboro Challenge, once an invitation-only race featuring recent race and pole winners, was held six times from 1987 to 1992, and it gave those years some late-season juice. Not surprisingly, the winners were the best of the best. Andretti won twice, with the other win coming in 1988 at Miami’s Tamiami Park. Bobby Rahal (’87 at Tamiami Park), Al Unser Jr. (Laguna Seca in ’89) and Fittipaldi (’92 at Nazareth) also took home big checks as The Thermal Club winner will Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network).

Those are just some of the non-points races in the sport’s history. The Race of Two Worlds was held twice at the historic Monza circuit in northwest Italy. Jimmy Bryan won in 1957, Jim Rathmann in ’58. In 1966, the Fuji 200 was held in Japan, won by Jackie Stewart.

Another such event was held in 2008 amid the sport’s consolidation. Ryan Briscoe won the Nikon Indy 300 at Surfers Paradise, Australia.

This weekend’s purse is $1.756 million. The winning car will receive $500,000.

But it’s not about the money. Ask Mears. Come the last lap of Sunday’s race, the leader might be wise to watch those mirrors and pray the fuel holds up.

The $1 Million Challenge includes an NTT INDYCAR SERIES Open Test from The Thermal Club on Friday, with Peacock providing coverage from noon-2 p.m. ET and 5-8 p.m. The INDYCAR Radio Network and Peacock will provide Open Test coverage from noon-2 p.m. ET and 4-6 p.m. Saturday followed by qualifying at 8 p.m. ET.