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INDIANAPOLIS: its air.

May 23, 1989

Undated (AP) _ ″But, instead of doing a big ego thing and trying to go as fast as Al, and maybe putting the car in the wall, Rick knew something was wrong and only drove it as fast as he felt it would go.″

Foyt, the all-time leader in Indy-car victories with 67 and the only driver to compete at Indianapolis in four different decades, says of Mears, ″He’s probably the best around right now. The boy doesn’t take stupid chances and he’s a winner.″

Rick Ravon Mears, born in Wichita, Kan., in 1951, started his racing career driving sprint buggies at Ascot Park in California in 1970. While supporting himself as a heavy equipment operator, he moved on to off-road racing and then Super Vee before driving his first Indy car in 1976.

He finished eighth in his first race, the California 500 at the now-defunct Ontario Motor Speedway.

Mears’ booming career was almost ended in a crash during a September 1984 practice session at Sanair Superspeedway in St. Pie, Quebec, Canada. He wedged the front of the car under a railing, crushing his feet and severing both achilles tendons.

″It was my fault,″ Mears says with characteristic frankness. ″I made a mistake and I paid the price.″

The road back was blocked by several operations and a difficult rehabilitation, but Mears was back in a race car by the next season, starting 10th at Indy with a qualifying speed of 209.976 and finishing 21st in the race.

A year later, he was back on the Indianapolis pole.

His victory in the 1989 season-opener last month at Phoenix gave Mears 24 career victories in 149 starts. Eighteen of those wins have come in the ’80s, a decade in which competition at Indy and in the entire series has greatly increased.

″It’s more fun,″ Mears said. ″The reason I got into this (racing) was because of the competition. That’s always what has made this business fun for me, and it’s always held my attention.

″It’s never had anything to do with the speed or anything like that, like a lot of people think or tend to think. To me, it’s not how fast we go, we want to go faster than anybody else.

″Being able to race wheel-to-wheel and the competition level is really what makes it exciting. I think if the competition gets tougher, it is just going to be that much better.″

For all his ability to drive at high speed, Mears likes to pace himself in the races, particularly at Indianapolis.

″I start out the race, the first lap, working toward the last lap,″ he said. ″I try to keep a little bit in hand. That last lap’s the important one.

″A lot of guys, I think a lot of times, try to run their first lap the best. That can get you into trouble because you’re diving into the unknown very quick. I like to go out and run the car a little easier pace, in case there’s a problem. And then you sneak up on it in small steps.

″Obviously,″ he added, ″if you’ve got a line that you can’t step over, if you walk up to that line in very small steps, you can walk very close to it without stepping over it. But if you take big steps, it’s very easy to step over that line before you realize it.

″Of course, certain circumstances dictate that you’ve got to go right now and get it done, such as qualifying. But, if I don’t have to do it, I’ll run what’s necessary.″

Where Mears is concerned, particularly at Indianapolis, that is often enough to get the job done - or come very close.

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