The Coolest Adult in the World

Rick Mears on a BMX bike, playing with a remote controlled car.
The photo that started it all – Rick Mears at the 1980 Indy 500

It all started May 24, 1980, with a photograph in The Indianapolis Star of a man sitting on a BMX dirt bike. He was playing with a remote-controlled toy race car. I was nine years old and swiftly proclaimed to my parents that Rick Mears was the coolest adult in the world. Ever. I learned he was a race car driver competing in a big race that took place not far from where we lived in Broad Ripple. My parents were generous to take me to practice, various driver appearances around town, and the parade. But they did not have an appetite for the Indy 500 Race.

I begged and pleaded. Finally, in 1982, my grandmother stepped in and took me to my first Indy 500. I cannot describe the feelings of exhilaration and joy being in Tower Terrace, watching 33 cars come out of Turn 4 screaming towards the green flag that first time. My hero lost to Gordon Johncock by 0.16 second, but I was hooked on The Greatest Spectacle in Racing and the whole Month of May for life. She and I went to the race together for the next seven years.

The 500 Festival

Young Dave and Rick Mears
Rick Mears and Dave Wilson circa 1984

I studied marketing and business at Indiana University while working at the Indiana Daily Student newspaper and landed in the advertising sales department at The Indianapolis Star after graduation. Having loved newspapers since I was nine, I thought I would be there forever. That is, until one of my favorite clients (for obvious reasons), the 500 Festival, asked me to join their team. I served as vice president of sponsorship and development for a decade. I especially loved being part of great May events like the Mini-Marathon, Parade, and Kids’ Day.

My role included getting corporate partners involved. They helped underwrite the cost of producing events and programs or enhanced them in meaningful ways for participants and guests. When Eli Lilly or Anthem sponsored custom-built parade floats or Gatorade donated products to the Mini, the Festival made community events bigger and better for participants and attendees. During my time there, I had the opportunity to work with the IMS Museum on the 500 Festival Education Program. Through that relationship, I became the director of development and partnerships at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.


The Next Level

The IMS Museum owns one of the most significant race car collections in the world. Over the years, vehicles had moved around the floor a bit, but the displays had not changed much since the current building opened in 1977. For a long time, it was enough to have the Marmon Wasp and other Indy 500-winning cars on display along with the Borg-Warner Trophy. The Museum had started doing some new, temporary exhibits that included cars not normally on the floor. This gave race fans a reason to make a return visit. But we wanted to take things to the next level for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016.

Rick Mears and Dave at Penske exhibit
Rick Mears and Dave Wilson in 2016

Fortunately, 2016 was also the 50th anniversary of Team Penske. This provided a compelling story for our first, large-scale effort. The Museum had the 1972 Mark Donohue winning Indy 500 car, and Mr. Penske was generous in loaning vehicles from his collection. Still, there were several historically significant Team Penske cars in private hands throughout the country. Pennzoil became the presenting sponsor of the exhibit. Thanks in part to their financial support, the Museum located and transported the cars to Indy. We hired a graphic designer to create and produce a captivating visual display for the exhibit. This included floor-to-ceiling graphics, hanging car banners, and a 36-page exhibit brochure that helped tell the story of the man, team, and machines selected for display.

With the Team Penske 50th Anniversary Exhibit as the backdrop, Pennzoil brought Helio Castroneves and Rick Mears to the Museum. Together, they unveiled Helio’s iconic Yellow Submarine paint scheme for the 100th running, similar to what Mears drove to Indy 500 victory in 1984 and 1988. As a result, the media event was a success for Pennzoil, Helio, and Team Penske, and it provided great promotion of the IMS Museum. It also confirmed that Rick Mears is still the coolest adult in the world.


Investing in New Exhibits and Programs

Since the Team Penske exhibit in 2016, the Museum has produced some great exhibits, including the two on display now: From the Vault presented by Bank of America and Granatelli: Larger Than Life presented by O’Donovan & McCardel Wealth Management of Raymond James. We are so thankful for the financial support of sponsors, members, donors, and grant funders. Because of them, we have invested in programming that provides more experiential, story-telling elements to the world-class collection of cars and objects curated for display.

Parts Petting Zoo
Offenhauser Parts Petting Zoo created for the Incredible Engines of the Indy 500 Exhibit

Did you get to enjoy the hands-on Offenhauser Engine Parts Petting Zoo created for the Incredible Engines of the Indy 500 exhibit in 2017? Maybe you listened to the unmistakable voices of Al, Bobby, and Al Unser, Jr. on your smartphone as they walked you through the cars and memorabilia of 2018’s The Amazing Unsers exhibit. Perhaps you threw on a pit crew shirt to be part of Mario’s 1969 Indy 500 victory photoshoot during the Mario Andretti: ICON exhibit last year. These are just a few examples of the innovation happening at the IMS Museum.

Our growing team is dedicated to ensuring that a visit to the IMS Museum is a world-class experience. I am proud to be part of it. We hope you too will get hooked on racing! We want you to return to the IMS Museum again and again. (Get a membership!) Thanks for your support, and I look forward to seeing you at the Museum soon.