SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal-December 2019

SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Page 32 of 130

ROGER MEARS RETURNS TO BAJA As Grand Marshal, and to support his son Casey, Roger Mears Starts Off The 52nd BFGoodrich Tires SCORE BaJa 1000 Presented by 4 Wheel Parts By Mike Vieria Photos by: Jack Wright Celebrated All-American race driver Roger Mears handled the Grand Marshal duties of this year’s SCORE Baja 1000 race with much gratitude for the acknowledgment of his past racing history here, but also because his son Casey was also driving in the number 42 Axalta SCORE Trophy Truck in the race. Mears is the founder and leader of the legendary “Mears Gang” that included his brother and IndyCar Champion Rick Mears. With their history in IndyCar and Off-Road, the Mears Gang has been a force for decades in motorsports and started with Bill Mears’ racing career, father to Roger and Rick, and the family’s regular appearances at races in and around their Bakersfield, California home. The Mears Gang grew to include Roger’s son Casey Mears who is competing in NASCAR and has now followed in his father’s footsteps with a vested interest in off-road racing. With a long history in SCORE, Roger Mears was a natural selection for Grand Marshal of the 52nd BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000 Presented by 4 Wheel Parts. “It was an honor,” said Mears. “I was glad to get out there and wave the flag for off-road racing as we’ve been racing in Baja since the late sixties. Off-road racing has been very good to the Mears family, and if we can give back a little, that’s great.” Roger Mears’ very impressive off-road career includes class wins in four SCORE Baja 1000s, five in the SCORE Baja 500, and one in the SCORE San Felipe 250. He was a winner of three SCORE season class point championships, had twenty class wins in the SCORE World Desert Championships at Riverside International Raceway, and was selected five times to American Auto Racing Writer and Broadcasters Association All-America team in 1974, 1981, 1985, 1989, and 1991. His career also included winning at Pike’s Peak, CART, and USAC racing, as well as running in the Indianapolis 500. In 1983, Nissan approached Mears with an offer to start his own factory-backed off-road racing team, and so he became a successful driver and team manager. Four members of the “Mears Gang” also have class wins to their credit at the SCORE Baja 1000. In addition to Roger, his father Bill, younger brother Rick, and oldest son Roger Jr. all have enjoyed wins in Baja. Roger’s son Casey often rode along with him on Baja pre-runs and helped out on the crew. While Casey made a name for himself in NASCAR racing over the past 15-years, he’s no stranger to the off-road scene. This year Casey made the leap to run the SCORE Baja 1000 with teammate Doug Fortin Jr. Casey is the only one of the “Mears Gang” still in active competition, and has previously raced in NORRA and the Mickey Thompson Off-road Stadium Series. Looking at the course and the challenges his son faces in Baja, Mears believes things were very different during his days of racing here, and that teams were essentially learning as they went along. He sees the operations are more refined in the race itself and in team preparations. A big difference he noticed is the speed of pit stops for the race vehicles. “Back when we were running, we were just dumping fuel cans in, and now they have the big tanks with the pressure in them, and it’s way faster,” he says. “We didn’t mind it at the time because it took about that long to change the wheels and tires. These guys now are getting to where they don’t have to do it as often because the tires work so well, they don’t have to change them like we used to. They can speed up the fueling to make everything quicker.” On that front, Mears credits BF Goodrich’s long-standing support of desert racing, and its continuous development over the years in drastically moving tire technology forward for off-road motorsports. He applauds the company for sticking with it, even though the lean times, making improvements that have benefitted the sport. Suspensions are another area of vast improvement Mears has seen in off-road motorsports. “The electronic suspensions have made the trucks ride like Cadillacs,” says Mears. “We had about the same amount of wheel travel back in the day, but they’ve come a long way with the shocks and other suspension parts that make them ride and handle better. That’s allowed them to up the horsepower.” This year’s race dealt harsh weather conditions that changed the race for many, including Mears’ son Casey. “I was so glad I wasn’t driving with all the mud and the water,” said Mears. “Casey told me they went through so many large areas of mud that would douse them to the point where they couldn’t see inside the car. The headlights would also get covered with mud and they had to stop and clean them off several times.” Although Roger Mears has raced just about every kind of vehicle from stock cars, midgets, sprint cars, and Indy cars, and he says off-road racing is still his favorite. “I just love the challenge of the desert,” he says. “I love the challenge of trying to make a vehicle work over all of that stuff. I never ceased to be amazed when I was driving that every time I’d see some big, giant ditch or hole, the truck would just go right through without any problem. I’ve always liked that; it’s a lot of fun. I always love to drive and in this type of racing, you get a lot of seat time. That’s what I like. All four SCORE Baja 1000 races that I won were around 23 hours, so it’s 23 hours of yanking on that steering wheel without getting out. That’s the real challenge. Of course, now they’re doing it in 18 or 19 hours, but it’s still a challenge for sure.” Mears last ran the SCORE Baja 1000 in 1995 and as the Grand Marshal, he was able to see the operations of the race and was impressed with how SCORE has developed and improved it both from a participation standpoint and in the overall spectacle of the event. “They’ve elevated the sport,” he said. “You can feel the difference and we’re glad to be a part of it again. There’s been a lot of improvements and positive development, but a lot of things are still the same. You still have to beat the desert.” SJ

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