It’s the 50th anniversary of Roger Penske and his storied team’s first Indy 500 this May. While others will do the celebrating, you can rest assured that “The Captain” and his crew will rightly mark the occasion by chasing an 18th win in their usual laser-focused way.
Four of Penske’s wins – as in, almost a quarter of them – were earned by Rick Mears, and 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of his first. It’s a measure of Mears’ intricate understanding of Indianapolis Motor Speedway that Penske’s current roster of drivers for the “500,” including defending winner Will Power and three-time victor Helio Castroneves, still turn to Mears for guidance and, yes, reassurance. Nobody could trim out a car to find that last scintilla of speed like “The Rocket,” and nobody seemed as comfortable at the edge of crazy-loose than the former desert racer.
But seeming to be comfortable and actually being comfortable are two different things, as Mears explains to our own Robin Miller in a fascinating insight into his Indianapolis 500 mindset and philosophy. You’ll find the full story in our annual Heroes Issue.
Speaking of comfortable, that’s something Mario Andretti most definitely wasn’t as, one eye on the oil temperature gauge, he counted down the laps on the way to his first – and, incredibly, only – Indy 500 win in 1969.
Andretti had suffered flash burns to his face and throat in a huge practice crash that wrote off his fast, but fragile Lotus 64 and left him qualifying and starting the race in a car, the venerable Brawner Hawk, that had only been entered to give his team an extra garage space.
Mario recounts that memorable Month of May, and looks back on just a couple of the ones that got away, too, starting page 26.
Putting together RACER’s Heroes Issue is always a labor of love, and with the likes of Richard Petty, Mika Hakkinen, Kevin Schwantz and two giants of IMSA GTP, Geoff Brabham and Juan Manuel Fangio II, also in the spotlight, I think we’ve got ourselves a good one.
Strap in and enjoy the read!
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