In front of a capacity crowd of 400 guests at the RRDC Evening with Roger Penske presented by Firestone in Long Beach, Calif., Rick Mears received the 2011 Phil Hill Award from Hill's widow Alma and son Derek. The event was the third annual Road Racing Drivers Club's West Coast banquet, held prior to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and emceed by RRDC president Bobby Rahal.
The Phil Hill Award has been presented annually since 1993 to the person who the RRDC feels has rendered outstanding service to road racing. The recipient may be a driver, entrant or outstanding member of a sanctioning body.
The award is named in honor of America’s first Formula One World Champion (in 1961), and is not only a tribute to his masterful accomplishments on the race track, it also recognizes his contributions as a great ambassador for the sport. Hill passed away in 2008.
Mears was born in Wichita, Kan., and his family moved to Bakersfield, Calif., when he was 5 years old. After starting out racing stock cars as a hobby and riding motorcycles, he dominated Indy car racing in the 1980s. He won a total of 29 Indy car races for Team Penske, seven of which were on road courses, and won the pole position 40 times. He was an Indy 500 champion four times, tying two other drivers for the most wins at the Brickyard and was named "Driver of the Decade" by the Associated Press. After retiring in 1992, he continued to work for Roger Penske as a driving coach and adviser.
"I saw Bobby a month ago in Florida and he mentioned the RRDC wanted to bring the Phil Hill Award to the West Coast," said Derek Hill, "and it really brought a smile to me and I couldn't be more thrilled. This award is for a gentleman that I admired so much growing up, watching him in Indy cars and winning so many Indy 500s. I was looking up a little bit of what he had done, since this is a road-racing award, and [I found] that a guy from Bakersfield (Calif.) goes over to England and wins his first race at Brands Hatch in 1978. So, I think that was a nice touch given my dad won his last race in Brands Hatch 11 years earlier. This is for you, Rick Mears."
Mears accepted the award and attempted to slip away without making a speech, but the audience drew him back to the podium. "I thought I was going to slide out," said a humble Mears. "I just have to say thank you very much. I was honored to just be here to honor Roger tonight, and to get this award is unbelievable. It's going to be tough for me live up to all that [Phil Hill represented]. I want to thank the RRDC and everything it does and everybody for coming out and supporting this event tonight."
Added Rahal, "The great thing about Rick when I raced against him is he was tough but he was always clean, he was always fair, and you could trust him. He was a great champion."
RRDC Phil Hill Award Winners include:
1993 John Bishop 1994 Juan Manuel Fangio II 1995 Leo Mehl 1996 Charlie Slater 1997 Danny Sullivan 1998 Rob Dyson 1999 Bob Fergus 2000 Elliott Forbes Robinson 2001 Bill France 2002 Jim Downing 2003 Derek Bell 2004 Brian Redman 2005 Jim France 2006 Roger Werner 2007 Skip Barber 2008 Roger Penske 2009 Bob Bondurant 2010 Nick Craw 2011 Rick Mears
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