Rick Mears' legacy of triumph: three CART championships, four victories in the Indianapolis 500, 29 Indy car victories, more than $11 million in earnings.
And so it is that Sunday, Mears will be honored again. In Rick's absence, his brother, Roger, a longtime off-road star, will accept the Eagle One Shav Glick Award before the Winston Cup stock car race at California Speedway.
The award is named for the venerable Los Angeles Times motorsports writer who saw the Mears brothers of Bakersfield, and their progeny, forge one of auto racing's most successful surnames.
"Rick is one of the greatest oval track drivers in racing history," Glick said. "His smooth driving style and knack for improving a car during a race earned him driver-of-the-decade honors, but more important, he is regarded as one of racing's true gentlemen."
Thus, Mears was selected over land-speed record setter Craig Breedlove, Grand Prix of Long Beach architect Chris Pook, drag racing legend Don Prudhomme and motorsports executive Les Richter for distinguished achievement in motor racing by a Californian.
"I think Shav has covered my whole career -- I don't want to make him feel old -- but it means a great deal to me," Rick Mears said of the 82-year-old Glick. "It's a great award, what it stands for. He's been a mainstay, and the other members that I ran against ... those guys have done a lot for the industry."
Mears, 51, now a resident of Jupiter, Fla., could not escape a previous commitment this weekend. The Associated Press' Driver of the Decade of the 1980s with 20 victories, and an inductee in 1997 into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, "Rocket Rick" joins previous Glick winners Dan Gurney, Formula One and Indy car driver-builder; Wally Parks, NHRA founder, and Parnelli Jones, Indy 500 winner and team owner.
The Mears name could be prevalent this weekend in NASCAR's Winston Cup race. Casey Mears, Roger's son, is a rookie driving for Dodge team owner Chip Ganassi. The 25-year-old, who has been spending this week in Bakersfield with his family, likes his chances.
"We could win; we could finish 36th," said Casey Mears, who with his cousin Clint -- Rick's son -- once seemed destined for a career in open-wheel cars and is in only his second full season of stock car racing. He finished 21st last season in the Busch series standings.
"Everything is so new," he said. "I'm new, the team is new. We're trying to learn what I like out of a car. Realistically, based off Vegas and tracks that are similar, I think we can run really well and can finish in the top 10. That's my goal for this weekend."
For Rick, there was a time when finishing outside the top 10 was unthinkable. When he won his first CART title in 1979, he never finished worse than seventh in 14 races, and nine times he finished on the podium, driving for Roger Penske.
In 1981, in 10 races in which he competed, he was outside the top four once, finishing eighth. In 1982, he qualified in the front row nine times in 11 races, and only twice did he finish lower than fifth.
The consistency with which he drove on race weekend -- every race weekend -- carried over to Indianapolis, where Mears won in 1979, 1984, 1988 and 1991. He tied A.J. Foyt and Al Unser with four victories, but did it in a shorter span. Mears also had the most victories from the pole, three; most pole positions, six; most consecutive seasons in the front row, six, and most times starting in the front row, 11.
Mears failed to qualify for the race in his first attempt, 1977, while driving for Art Sugi, but he joined Penske the next season and rewrote the record book until his retirement in 1992.
"I wanted to be competitive every event we went to, and being with the right team all those years made that possible," Mears said. "I felt we had the best team and equipment in the business -- they always gave me the tools I needed to be competitive -- so, basically, there was no excuse."
There were few excuses needed in a career born out of the desert, where he first raced motorcycles and then dune buggies in his teens. By 1972, he and Roger were among the top drivers competing in off-road events throughout the southwest and Baja California.
In 1976, Mears won Formula Vee and Super Vee SCCA nationals and went on to drive Formula 5000 and Indy cars for Bill Simpson, the equipment manufacturer. He was selected USAC rookie of the year, and also won the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
It was when he joined Penske, though, that his career took off.
Together, they dominated open-wheel racing until Mears announced he was finished at his boss' Christmas party in 1992. He remained with Penske as a consultant and recently accepted a role as driver coach for the Indy Racing League's developmental Infiniti Pro Series.
"The desert racing taught me to run a pace that's fast enough to win, but slow enough to finish," Mears said. "You could run too fast and not finish the race. That's a hard pace to find sometimes. To finish first, first you must finish."