In late November, the famed Mears Gang returned to a portion of Mexico that Roger and Rick Mears made famous some 45 years ago.
The first appearance at the legendary Baja California desert course for the Mears Gang was in 1973 when dad, Bill, took brothers Roger and Rick into the unique wilderness of the famed Mexican peninsula.
“It was back in 1973 when we came down to Baja with my dad and my brother,” said older brother Roger Mears, a four-time Baja 1000 winner. “We had a pickup truck with our race car on a trailer, two spare tires and couple cans of gas. It was the Baja 500 and we asked some guys to take some gas out to a few of the checkpoints. And we were hooked on coming down to race here. We just loved Mexico. We have been coming down here for so many years now.”
While Rick Mears gained fame in Indy cars as a four-time Indy 500 winner, Roger Mears made a name for himself in a variety of racing disciplines, including off-road, Indy cars, sprint cars, midgets and stock cars.
How about 20 SCORE Off-Road World titles at Riverside, five Pikes Peak Hillclimb crowns and several desert series championships for Roger Mears? His last appearance in the SCORE Baja 1000 was in a Chevrolet pickup in 1995 after driving a variety of desert machines for more than 20 years.
This year’s 52nd BFG SCORE Baja 1000 saw Roger Mears serve as grand marshal when the 264 drivers left the Ensenada starting line on Nov. 23. But he had a vested interest in one particular racer in the starting field — his son Casey, who made his Baja 1000 debut in the tough Trophy Truck division with the No. 42 Axalta Geiser Brothers machine.
Casey Mears, at age 41, might be new to Trophy Truck racing but not to motorsports, as the Arizona-based racer began driving little off-road buggies (Super Lites) at age 12. He quickly moved to open-wheel racing in Indy Lights and Indy cars. Casey Mears joined the NASCAR scene in 2003, winning once in 489 Cup Series starts. He also co-drove to victory in the 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona sports car race.
“This year’s race was a really big challenge for Casey because he was racing in a very tough class, Trophy Trucks,” said Roger Mears. “The competition is extremely tough. Casey is a good wheelman, but he doesn’t have the experience of the top SCORE Trophy Truck guys. He must learn the terrain. He has been in a few desert races recently and he is learning very well. But this is the Baja 1000, the world’s biggest off-road race.”
After a move from Charlotte to Scottsdale, Ariz., off-road racing opportunities began to surface for the younger Mears, who wanted to follow in his famous father’s footsteps again.
“I started in off-road, short courses, (Mickey Thompson Off-Road Gran Prix stadium series) and pre-running with my dad (Roger),” said Casey Mears. “I would run with dad and Roger Jr. a bit. Then made a big left turn in my career. I didn’t know I would go the direction of open-wheel and stock car racing. I was in Indy Lights, ran the CART race at Fontana and then went south to NASCAR. It was a great career path.”
However, Casey Mears admits that off-road racing was always in his blood.
“I have always had a passion for the off-road action,” Mears explained. “It was a perfect storm. I moved back to Scottsdale, Ariz., a year and a half ago. They were looking for the next NASCAR guy to drive the Axalta truck and I filled in for dad driving the Chenowth buggy this year. We did well and I drove in the NORRA 1000, too. I really enjoyed it. But it’s a whole new level in the SCORE Trophy Truck class with a 29-truck field.”
In this year’s SCORE Baja 1000, Mears co-drove with veteran Doug Fortin Jr. in the No. 42 Axalta Trophy Truck. Fortin, who owns a leading off-road drivetrain company for short course and desert vehicles, is no stranger to the Baja with multiple class victories in the event.
“We had a great team and I was co-driving with a veteran in Doug Fortin,” Casey Mears said. “Our plan was for me to start the race for about 330 miles and then Doug to drive at night. I wanted to give Doug a good, solid truck for the finish. I would love to compete in off-road racing for years to come. There are guys racing for a long time still in the Baja. It could be another racing career path for me now. I was very excited for the Baja 1000. There is so much history here and with my family, too.”
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