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Rick Mears: “You have to have a healthy fear”

Submitted by on March 21, 2011

1Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears knows a thing or two about the skills of oval racing, and the psyche that racing drivers need to be at the top of their game.

Since he hung up his helmet in 1992, Mears has been a consultant driver coach for Team Penske, but also for any rookies that seek to tap his oval knowledge and experience.

Mears began his Penske career in 1978, and is still part of the team to this day. What is his tip to be successful on ovals? “You have to have a healthy fear,” he says. “If you have too much fear it will slow you down and you will not be able to do your job properly. But you also need to revere and respect the speed and the track, as that’s what keeps you from making mistakes.”

His career was temporarily halted following a crash at Sanair, Quebec that severely damaged his feet and ankles. At no point however – despite initial worries that he would be unable to walk again – did he not consider returning to the cockpit. “The only question I had was after such a lengthy layoff,” he explains. “How long would it take to get back up to speed?

“I knew exactly what had caused my crash. It was something I did, and I learned a lesson, and I wouldn’t do that again. If I hadn’t known what the cause of the crash was, then yes, there would have been anxiety.”

Despite his successes, one thing Mears wasn’t prepared for on retirement was – strangely enough – watching the speed.  After all it’s one thing watching from the pitlane or the inside of a turn, but a whole new experience if you stand on the outside of turns, something a driver rarely gets to do, probably for obvious reasons.

“There’s a crossover gate at the exit of Turn Two at Indy,” he says. “Watching from there made me realise that I’m glad it didn’t feel as fast in the cockpit as it looks, or I would probably have never been out there! It’s impressive and scary and watching cars coming straight at you at 220mph-plus gets your attention. If I have a first-time visitor at Indy, I will take them there. It gives you such a perspective.”

By Andy Hallbery

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