Rinaman gets another chance to “be there” in this year’s Indianapolis 500 as Power attempts to win the Indy 500 for the first time and Castroneves is trying to become the next four-time Indianapolis 500 winner. Rounding out the Team Penske trio is former Champ Car World Series and current NASCAR Sprint Cup driver A.J. Allmendinger will be driving in his first Indianapolis 500.
Rinaman thought his time over the wall was over in 2012 but he is back at it once again.
“I thought last year at Indy was the last time over the wall because the guys that were injured were going to be back so I had my picture taken as my last over the wall hurrah,” he recalled. “It ended up another guy was injured over the winter so it wasn’t my last over the wall so I’ll have to take that picture all over again.”
For a man who is 62 Rinaman still gets charged up every time he comes to the Indianapolis 500. And to describe the intensity of preparing for the final pit stop in front of 350,000 people with the victory of the Indianapolis 500 on the line is pretty compelling, even for someone who has done it for 30 years.
“It really is intense,” Rinaman said. “It’s amazing how the excitement of the event itself and how the pit stop approaches and it is the last pit stop of the race all builds up. In 2009 I couldn’t be prouder of the guys on the crew because we were racing both Ganassi drivers. We all knew what we had to do. The car came in and you are nervous, yes. The blood pressure shoots up. But once the car pulls into the pit you forget everything that surrounds you – the noise – you hear nothing. You go about doing your job. We pulled off a good pit stop. We ended up having a great stop and fortunately for us it was different with the Ganassi cars.
“The pressure is there of course because you want to make sure you doing what you are supposed to do. It isn’t just yourself you are doing this for. It’s a lot of people and a lot of fans that support you and a lot of sponsors. You sure don’t want to be the one that takes you from first to last. I’ve been very fortunate over the years to have had crews that stand on the gas when it came to getting the job done.”
Rinaman has worked with some of the greatest drivers ever to compete in the Indy 500 including two of the three four-time winners. By working with such legends as Al Unser and Mears, these were drivers who knew how to get it done in the biggest race in the world.
“It is remarkable that Rick is still at it and he works at it very hard,” Mears said. “He stays fit and he works at staying fit. He is tough. He is my age and you aren’t going to get me to go over the wall like that. He has done a tremendous job and is a big asset to the team. He is keeping all the pit crews organized actually by trying to beat them most of the time and lead by example. He keeps the young guys on their toes. He is the commander of the team and the group he leads. He is good because by having done all of it he can overlook the whole picture of different people doing different things and keep the attention to detail.
“It’s great to see him still out there. Team Penske has always been about continuity and long-term and family atmosphere. That reinforces that fact. Rick is a good man and he will probably be around a lot longer.”
Rinaman is from Mars, Pennsylvania and his brother-in-law built engines for actor Paul Newman when he was competing in SCCA. Rinaman went to work for the legendary driver/car builder Dan Gurney before he got an offer from Penske Racing to drive the truck when the team was based in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Going over the wall for more than 30 years has given Rinaman plenty of “War Wounds” from cars entering and leaving the pits.
“I’ve been run over a couple times,” he admitted. “I tore some ligaments in my ankle when Scott Sharp ran over me at Nazareth. I’ve had a torn Achilles’ tendon. But that is the extent of it. I feel pretty fortunate those are the only injuries I’ve had over the years.”
Rinaman’s hands also have been beaten up like a catcher on a baseball team. But in his mind the aches and pains have been worth it to play a key role in Indianapolis 500 success at Team Penske.