Roger Mears – ORMHOF Class of 2020
When the name Mears is mentioned in the motorsports industry, Rick’s name is the first to come to mind for most racing enthusiasts and competitors. Only three drivers – Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser — have captured the Indianapolis 500 four times.
But ask Rick who was one of his greatest drivers for him to race with and watch and he’ll talk about his older brother Roger, who was one of the top drivers in off-road history and one of the most well-rounded racers in all forms of four-wheel competition.
In addition to his phenomenal off-road racing statistics, Roger Mears also drove in 31 IndyCar Series races including two Indy 500s and recorded 17 Top-10 finishes. Roger also drove stock cars, sprint cars, midgets, and other racing vehicles in various divisions.
Roger won a remarkable twenty World Off-Road Championships at the historic Riverside International Raceway. He also has four Baja 1000 wins, five Pikes Peak International Hill Climbs, two HDRA/SCORE series titles and a Mickey Thompson Stadium Series Truck crown, leaving no doubt that the older Mears brother had a spectacular racing career.
Memories on the walls of the Mears Gang garage. The photos above are from 1951. Left: Bill raced the ‘big’ number 10. Between the big 10 and the 32 five-window hot rod coupe is the ‘little’ number 10 Jr, built by Bill for five-year-old Roger to ‘race’ around the dirt track during intermission to entertain the crowd. Right: That’s little Roger presenting the trophy dash trophy to his dad. Roger’s mom sent Roger out to present the trophy to his dad instead of letting the trophy girl present it so his dad couldn’t kiss the trophy girl. True story. And here’s the trophy:
Photos above: More memories from the Mears Gang garage wall. Left, Roger’s dad Bill wins again in 1951. Right, Roger in the car that gave him his second Pikes Peak Hill Climb win in the 1970s.
Photos above: Two more memories from the Mears Gang garage wall. Left, Roger won many races driving his dad’s midget. He also had a serious wreck in this car, breaking both of his arms. Right, Roger’s son Casey driving a Super Lite at a Mickey Thompson Stadium Series race, with his dad Roger, and grandad Bill, standing by the car. This was one of Casey’s first races. Casey would go on to a successful racing career, including fifteen seasons in NASCAR with a trip to victory lane in 2007 and more than fifty top-ten finishes.
Roger and Rick Mears, who started in go-karts and motorcycles, began to establish their racing lore in the tight Ascot Park Sprint Buggy action in the early 1970s and it continued at Riverside, Pikes Peak and in the desert. The Bakersfield, California brother duo had followed their father, Bill, in racing and also followed him to the winner’s circle. Bill was a very successful stock car racer in Wichita, Kansas before moving his family to California for better business opportunities. But the boys showed their talent had exceeded Bill’s impressive abilities.
After various wins in short course and desert racing, Roger’s brother Rick moved to road racing, and the famed open-wheel triumphs that included three IndyCar Series championship and four Indy 500 wins.
Meanwhile, Roger was driving anything and everything he could in the desert, short course, dirt and pavement ovals, and later followed Rick into IndyCars. Despite competing full-time in only two IndyCar campaigns, Roger put together strong showings despite driving second-hand equipment. His peers knew that as well and named him “Most Improved Driver” in 1983.
With the shortage of good IndyCar rides, Roger returned to his roots in off-road racing and continued his sensational Riverside performances, many wins in the Mickey Thompson Stadium series and started his own racing operation with Nissan, Budweiser and Bridgestone partnerships. The Mears name was winning on the pavement with Rick and in the dirt with Roger. Roger even learned the tough life of race promoting (i.e. Mickey Thompson, Walt Lott and Sal Fish, etc.) with the “Mears Gang Rumble” in Bakersfield in 1984.
One of the more remarkable Roger Mears stories dates back to 1980 when he flipped a midget car at Ascot Park and broke both arms. Doctors advised him to rest but the Baja 1000 was coming in a few weeks and Roger was battling for the series title. So, the doctors decided on surgery with plates in Roger’s arms. Mears, with help from his dad driving too, drove 70 percent of the race and finished the 1000 miles. He took the SCORE Class 3 series title in the famed Budweiser Jeep Honcho, the same machine which won 12 of 22 races in a three-year period.
Roger says that “More horsepower equals more fun.” The trophy truck he raced in 1995 made 800 to 900 horsepower. Roger added, “There’s nothing more fun than that — except more horsepower!”
In recent years, Roger and his wife, Carol, have retired in Mexico after following their son, Casey, who competed in the NASCAR Cup stock car series for more than a decade. They also spend time visiting with Roger’s dad, Bill, in their hometown of Bakersfield, California.
“I have raced many forms of racing. Competing in off-road races was and is still my favorite form of racing. With off-road racing there is a lot of seat time, driving a race car for hours and hours, all the terrain changes, weather changes, the challenges that come with racing in the desert. I still have off-road cars and my retired time is to play in the desert everyday! Off-Road racing has come full circle for Casey and myself as we both started out in off-road. It’s very rewarding and fun to be able to chase Casey and be involved as he races in off-road now. It means a great deal to me and is an honor to be inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. It is nice to be recognized for all the hard work and dedication for myself and everyone involved with our teams. I couldn’t have had any of my success without our hard working crew giving me suburb equipment to drive. Definitely a team effort!” — Roger Mears