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Thursday, May 22, 2008
Updated: January 6, 10:40 AM ET
Mears nearly took game to F1


INDIANAPOLIS -- It has to be more than a coincidence that it seems like the only sunny days in May in Indianapolis fall on days when the IndyCars aren't scheduled on track.

Wednesday was another example of that; the only vehicles on the 2.5-mile oval were driven by fans as part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's annual Community Day. Despite a lack of on-track action, there was plenty to do: driver autograph sessions, a charity golf tournament at Brickyard Crossing in which several drivers took place and other family-oriented activities.

XM Radio's Andretti Green Racing Hour was staged live at the Coke Zero stage behind the Pagoda tower, followed by a half-hour Q&A session with Rick Mears. Rick then stuck around for an autograph session of his own to help promote a new biography by Gordon Kirby titled "Thanks: The Story of Rick Mears and The Mears Gang."

Mears no doubt signed "Thanks" with every autograph, something he has done for more than 30 years. Rick remains the standard by which racing drivers and indeed all sportsman are judged: a fast clean and fair racer who never publicly pointed fingers and retired when he was still at the top of his game.

Mears was best known for his Indy-car exploits, but he started out in off-road racing, dabbled in stock cars and had the opportunity to switch to Formula One in 1980 with the Brabham team. He recalled both of those experiences Wednesday.

"USAC used to have a stock car series, and I ran some races at Michigan in the early '80s," Mears said. "No disrespect to NASCAR, but I always thought the stock car felt like driving a boat after being in the open-wheel car. The open-wheel car was much more precise and, of course, a lot faster.

"But the key to being a winner in any form of racing is to get that last little bit out of the car.

"I tested twice with Brabham and was within a quarter or half a second of Nelson Piquet at Paul Ricard, in France," Mears added. "We had another test at Riverside, in California, and I was a little bit faster than Nelson.

"I could have done it, we had the contracts drawn up, but I decided against it."

Rick Mears representing the USA in Formula 1 in the 1980s … it all could have been so much different over the last couple of decades for American F1 fans and aspiring drivers had it happened.