When qualifying begins tomorrow for the 75th annual Indianapolis 500, veteran Rick Mears will be nervous.
He will be hunkered down inside his No. 3 Penske with its Chevrolet engine, trying to calm himself.
"To me, qualifying is one of the highest pressures we face," Mears said yesterday. "In a 500-mile race you have time to adjust and make changes, but in qualifying it is four laps. If you blow one corner you blow the whole lap. You've got to be constantly on the edge without making a mistake."
The most consistent run for the Indy pole was made in 1971 by George Snider. His first, second and fourth laps were each clocked at 52.45 seconds (171.592 mph); his third lap was a tick faster, 52.44 seconds (171.625 mph).
But it got him only a 21st position start, and he finished last in the 33-car field.
Mears, on the other hand, has pretty much had his way with the Indy pole.
He is the only driver in Indianapolis history to have started the race from the pole position five times ('79, '82, '86, '88 and '89). He is also the only man to start 10 Indys from the front row. And he and Johnny Rutherford are the only drivers who have won twice starting from the pole. Rutherford did it in 1976 and 1980, and Mears in 1979 and 1988.
Going into tomorrow's pole day qualifying, Mears has the fastest practice time, 226.569 mph.
"The pressure comes from within," Mears said, indicating history means little. "To me, it is important to be on the front row and on the pole.
At 224.6 mph, his practice speed is more than 2 mph faster than Bobby Rahal in a Lola. A.J. Foyt, also driving a Lola and attempting to qualify for his final Indianapolis 500, is 8 mph off Mears' pace at 216.549.
"My speed is fairly comfortable," Mears said. "But the day I hit that speed conditions were very nice. There are a lot of guys out here who might have hit that figure that day. Is there more to be gained in my car? I think with a little more work, there is a little more to be gained."