Michael Andretti (middle) used cousin John as a pick to take the lead
– but it wasn't over yet... (LAT photo)
The 75th Indianapolis 500 was run on this day 21 years ago. It was the race that made Rick Mears a four-time winner, alongside A.J. Foyt and Al Unser, having started from his sixth pole position in the Memorial Day weekend classic. But the manner of his victory stood out as much as what it did for him in the record book.
Mears had been content to led Penske Racing teammate Emerson Fittipaldi take the fight to Newman/Haas Racing's Michael Andretti. But when Fittipaldi's gearbox failed with 18 laps to go, Mears grabbed the lead as Andretti ducked into the pits under yellow. He lined up just behind Mears for the restart.
As the leaders came down to complete lap 186, Michael diced back and forth down the frontstretch, and passed Mears in daring fashion on the outside of Turn 1 to take the lead. It looked like a winning move, but by the end of the lap the Penske had reeled in Andretti's similar Chevrolet-powered Lola, and Mears pulled the same move on Andretti at the same spot on the next lap to retake the lead.
Mears lengthened his lead but, on lap 190, Michael's father and teammate Mario Andretti stalled at the entrance to the pits. The yellow flag came out for the tow-in and bunched the field for another restart. There was speculation there had been some gamesmanship employed, but it turned out not to matter as, on the Mears got a good jump on the following restart and pulled away over the final six laps as Michael's handling deteriorated. Moments later, Mears was a four-time champion.
• For more insights into Mears' magic pass at Indy and what led up to it, check out the June issue of RACER, where it plays a part in our tale of racing heroes with recollections by Rick and Michael Andretti. CLICK HERE to subscribe now at a special discount rate!