Wednesday, April 27, 2011

500 Thoughts: The Festival And Rick Mears

As I mentioned last week, I’ll be doing a series of articles talking about the Indy 500, its personal meaning to me, and some recollections I have of the same. Today’s story is all about the 1988 500 Festival Parade and my favorite driver Rick Mears.

It was 1988, and my dad worked at a now-defunct furniture business in downtown Indianapolis. I was all of 8 years old, and was convinced that Rick Mears was the fastest driver on the face of the earth. Every year, I would bet my grandpa $1 that Rick Mears would win the Borg-Warner trophy. I got Mears, he got the other 32 drivers. I considered it a fair bet, if perhaps a bit lopsided towards my side.

Rather than take seats along the parade route, that year my dad had a special treat. We took the ancient service elevator to the top floor of his work, and ascended a short staircase to the roof. We had a perfect view of the main parade route, and I marveled at it all. I knew Rick Mears was going to be in that parade, waving to the crowd. In my mind he had already won the 500 against Fittipaldi and Unser a dozen times, shooting past them in the turns with ease. I thought (and still think!) that yellow #5 Pennzoil PC-18 was one of the most awesome cars I had ever seen. And now I was going to see my hero in this parade.

After what seemed an eternity, the parade started. I endured what seemed to be dozens of marching bands; I was indifferent to most of the floats. I seem to remember Robocop waving from a car, but little else from that wait stands out.

Suddenly, I saw the glint down the line, and there came Rick, riding in the back of a gleaming convertible, in the front row as befitted his status as Pole Winner that year. I started yelling as he got closer, waving frantically. I was too high up; he couldn’t hear me. I tried against, shouting as loud as I could and gesturing from my building perch. Still nothing.

Now his convertible was passing directly below our building. There he was! And he couldn’t hear me! I gave it one last shot, found about 40 decibels I didn’t know I had, and shouted Rick’s name one last time….

Rick looked up, caught my eye, and waved right at me.

Perhaps it was the lack of oxygen from all the shouting, but you could have knocked me over with a feather.

In the years that followed, I would fall away from Indy for a while, but I never forgot Rick Mears’ waving to that screaming kid on top of a building. It’s memories like that bring you back to Indy, whatever detours you might take along the way.


  1. I had to tweet this. I'm a Mears fan too, but he's tied for first place with Big Al and Mr. Foyt. Keep writing; I'm reading!

  2. Thanks for the read! Big Al, AJ, and Rick made up my Front Row in Indy Ultimate 33--how could they not?

  3. Great stuff. 1988 is very memorable for me because that was the year I went to the race for the first time. What a beautiful car, and Mears just drove so brilliantly, patiently working on the car (as always) for the first half of the race and then heading to the front to lead 89 of the last 99 laps.

  4. True! Seeing that car at the IMS Museum for their special brought back a lot of memories. I choked up a bit.