Pat Patrick, one of the most influential car owners in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history, passed away on Tuesday in Phoenix at at the age of 91.
Patrick’s teams won the Indianapolis 500 three times, including the rain-shortened race in 1973 with Gordon Johncock and then near photo finish in 1982, where Johncock edged Rick Mears, and again in 1989 with Emerson Fittipaldi. But his legacy will likely be as one of the founding fathers of Championship Auto Racing Teams. Together with Roger Penske, he started CART in 1979 and wrestled control of Indy car racing away from the United States Auto Club by 1982.
“Pat was a very sharp businessman and very good at looking down the road and he could see USAC was going nowhere so he and Roger started CART,” said Jim McGee, who worked as team manager for Patrick Racing in three different decades from the 1980s to 2000s. “He was a wildcatter and took a lot of chances but he was always very determined to make something work and he was proud of what CART accomplished.
“He liked racing because it was a challenge.”
A native of Kentucky who migrated to Michigan, Patrick was in the oil business with Walt Michener when Michener began fielding Indy cars in the late 1960s sponsored by his partner. In 1970, Patrick Racing was formed and Johnny Rutherford damn near stole the pole position in an old, modified Eagle.
“That was a great way for Pat to get started but it didn’t look likely the day before qualifying,” said Rutherford, who drove for Patrick in 1970 and 1971 and again in 1983. “We were only running 161mph and then my chief Mike Devin made a change to the front spoiler and we gained almost 10mph.
“Al Unser beat me by fraction (0.01 seconds) for the pole but Patrick Racing was suddenly on the map.”
Patrick Petroleum was a solid business unlike USAC championship racing in the ’70s and when fellow car owner Dan Gurney penned the White Paper and questioned where the sport was heading, Patrick and Penske put down their own money to start a separate CART series in ’79. USAC tried to ban their teams (along with four others) from competing at Indianapolis that year before a federal court judge ruled in their favor. “All the money Roger and I have spent fielding cars at Indy and they want to keep us out?” said Patrick after the trial. “That’s what I call bad business.”
With Penske building his own cars to compete with Gurney’s Eagle, McLaren and other models, Patrick’s crew began building his own chassis in his westside Indianapolis shop. Its 1982 Wildcat was the last American-made chassis to win Indianapolis.
“Pat was a very loyal person and stuck with people and we had a helluva group in 1982,” said McGee.
While USAC continued to sanction the Indy 500, CART grew into a popular series with a major title sponsor, races all over the globe and gave road racing a renaissance in North Amerce.
Patrick invested in what became known as the Indy Lights series in 1986 and that was a steppingstone for young drivers to move up to CART. He fielded cars at Indy from 1970-1995 and came back one last time in 2004. He ran two cars for much of CART’s 24 seasons, which ended in 2003. He was voted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2018.
Pat Patrick is survived by two sons and one daughter.