Younger Mears is newest family expert on stock cars
Thursday, October 24, 2002
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Casey Mears is the undisputed family expert on stock cars.
Whenever uncle Rick, four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, and father Roger, an off-road racer, have a question about NASCAR, Casey is the relative they turn to for a quick answer.
His experience? Less than a year, or 32 races.
It's a role reversal that is particularly sweet for the 24-year-old Casey, considering how much advice he has sought from them.
"This is kind of a whole new venue for all of us. Dad raced stock cars in the past, and my uncle raced in IROC. But I've raced stock cars now more than anybody else has in our family. It's kind of neat," Casey Mears said.
"I can let them know about things happening here, and it's fun for me. I think it's fun for them to be able to lay back, watch and listen."
Casey is wrapping up his first year in the NASCAR Busch Series after spending his life racing everything else with wheels. But it truly has been a rookie season because he had driven a stock car just once, in an ARCA race, before joining this series last November at Homestead.
It hasn't been the easiest debut.
He joined the Phillips 66 Performance Team, replacing Geoff Bodine for the final race of the season for Welliver-Jesel Motorsports. The team picked up a rookie driver for the 2002 season and switched from Chevrolet to Dodge.
Mears is the lowest driver in the points standings despite having run in all 30 races this season. His best finish -- fifth at Talladega in April -- is his only top five. He has four top 15s despite starting in the top eight five different times.
He has been caught up in wrecks and slowed by valve spring failures in up to 10 races during his on-the-job training.
Crew chief Donnie Richeson thinks things have progressed as well as he had hoped for this year.
"We've made leaps and bounds really. The sorry part is the results just aren't there in the newspaper on Sunday," he said.
Having to adjust
Mears admits he has had some differences driving a stock car as opposed to the open-wheel cars of the Indy Racing League and CART. But the slower speeds has eased his learning curve with the biggest problem adapting to ovals instead of mostly road and street courses.
"I'm happy with the year overall. As a driver, I'm unhappy. I want to be winning races, but that's what we're working at," he said.
Mears certainly knows how to race. He was only 4 when he started racing bicycles and moved up to all-terrain vehicles in 1984. He raced go-karts in 1991, then tried off-road and USAC where he won the championship in 1995.
He went to the Indy Lights Championship Series in 1996 and finished second in the points championship in 1999 where he became just the fourth driver in that series' history to complete every lap in a season.
He tested Indy cars for several teams in 2000 and debuted in CART with a fourth-place finish at California Speedway for Team Rahal. He ran three IRL races in 2001 and finished the season by filling in for the injured Alex Zanardi in CART.
Then came a tough decision. Mears had opportunities to race in both open-wheel and stock cars, so he talked with his father and his uncle. Both told him to switch to NASCAR.
Rick Mears was working with Roger Penske at the time and knew his boss was switching from CART to IRL for the 2002 season. Roger Mears was working for Chip Ganassi in North Carolina and saw the popularity of NASCAR up close.
"I think I found a home," Casey said. "I'm really happy in stock cars."