Just 16 hundredths of a second stands between Rick Mears and a fifth Indianapolis 500 victory. The margin by which Gordon Johncock beat Mears to the checkered flag in 1982 is portrayed in a tableau of sorts in the exhibit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum honoring the man known as “The Rocket.” The special exhibit opened May 2 and runs through March 20, 2022.
The four cars in which he won the 500 are also present, along with one of his first race car, an off road dune buggy he built with the help of his brother Roger and father Bill.
From there, Mears went to the Pikes peak Hill Climb in another specially built car. Mears won the 1976 Hill Climb in the Porsche powered car built by Paul Newman and Doug Dreager. The following year Mears attempted to qualify for the 500.
His car was not fast enough to make the race, but a conversation with Roger penske after qualifying led to a career shaping relationship between the two. Mears would drive for Penske the remainder of his time in Indycar.
Mears first win came in his second 500 in 1979. he drove a tactical race, which became his style. Mears also won the first of what grow to be a record six poles at Indianapolis. He won from the pole twice more. The race has been won from the pole 21 times, which makes his accomplishment stand out even more.
The 1982 race finish had the cars too far apart. While Bob Jenkins radio call is quoted on the wall, the cars have a lot more separation in the display.
The exhibit contains just a few memorabilia items from Mears. The best things are two of his helmets.
New for this exhibit is the car information presentation. Instead of a placard to read, visitors scan a QR code which displays the information on their phones. By scanning the first one, fans can scroll through to subsequent cars and give themselves a self guided tour of the display. This system allows fans to read information without waiting for the person in front of them to finish reading the placard. Welcome to the future of museums.
“Rocket Rick Mears” is a nice tribute to a driver as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of his last win at Indianapolis.
Museum Touch Ups
The IMS Museum has upgraded the display cases in the winners’ gallery. The case on the north wall is a tribute to the Hulman Family’s 74 years of ownership. It contains a nice timeline of improvements to the facility. The displays on the south wall are tidier and less cluttered, with a display of early racing helmets and other historical items. The walls look much neater and have a cleaner look than I have seen on previous visits.