Indianapolis 500 winners, NASCAR Truck champion, NASCAR weekly racing star among inductees
BAKERSFIELD, Calif., February 29, 2020 – Four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rick Mears is among six elected for induction into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame.
Mears’ fellow enshrinees in the Class of 2020 – over two rounds of voting by the Hall’s board of directors – are Mike Bliss, a USAC Silver Crown and NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series champion; Craig Keough, a Las Vegas team owner and track sponsor; Jim Pettit II, the 1984 NASCAR Pacific Coast Region champion; Jerry Pitts, ARCA Menards Series West championship crew chief and team owner and Tom Sneva, the 1982 Indianapolis 500 winner and a ferocious pavement supermodified champion.
The Class of 2020 – the hall’s 17th – will be enshrined June 11 during the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame’s annual induction ceremonies, presented by Gateway Motorsports Park, at the Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa, Calif. The event leads into the NASCAR Cup Series and ARCA Menards Series West weekend at nearby Sonoma Raceway.
The organization also will induct its third Heritage class of five individuals whose careers largely ended prior to 1970. The Heritage inductees will be named in April.
“Without a question, this is the most diversified class since the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame’s inception in 2001,” said Ken Clapp, Chairman and CEO of the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame. “From the grassroots level to the Indianapolis 500; from storied drivers to the mechanics and sponsors who make it possible, these inductees represent motorsports in its entirety.”
About the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame:
The West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame was conceived in 2001 as a means of recognizing significant contributors and contributions to the sport of stock car racing. The mission of the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame is founded to preserve history and heritage of the important role west coast stock car competitors have played in the sport’s development and continuation and to recognize, through annual enshrinement, of outstanding individuals and groups within the sport such as, but not limited to, designers, engineers, mechanics, drivers, race track owners, promoters, publicists and members of the motorsports media.
For additional information about the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame, please visit WestCoastStockCarHallofFame.com.
- Mike Bliss won national championships in U.S. Auto Club (USAC) and NASCAR – part of a very small fraternity to accomplish the feat.
- Bliss, 54, began racing near his Milwaukie, Ore. hometown, at the old Portland Speedway and other northwest tracks. Open-wheel racing beckoned and Bliss eventually reached USAC’s Silver Crown division to become its 1993 champion. His 10 victories rank co-10thin Silver Crown rankings.
- Bliss changed gears with the creation of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors and RV Truck Series. He won 13 times and captured the 2002 championship, driving for fellow Northwesterner Dave Fuge.
- Bliss became a fulltime NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series competitor, eventually participating in a combined 538 events. He finished fourth in Richmond Raceway’s 2004 spring Cup race driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Bliss won twice in the Xfinity Series, both victories coming at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
- He was selected to compete in the 2003 International Race of Champions and won the Chicagoland Speedway round.
- Many casual race fans may be unaware of Craig Keough’s 25-year impact on West Coast stock car racing. Insiders, however, call the Las Vegas team owner/race sponsor “a legend.” The owner of Star Nursery, Keough entered late model competition with the late Chris Trickle and the driver’s father, Chuck Trickle.
- The relationship led to a conversation in Tucson, Ariz. with a young driver, Kurt Busch, who asked for $50 to buy tires. Keough wound up purchasing Trickle’s equipment and sponsoring Busch, who won the 1999 NASCAR Elite Southwest Series.
- Keough’s recognition of Kurt’s talent was the springboard to a Roush Fenway Racing ride in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors and RV Truck Series and ultimately the 2003 NASCAR Cup Series title.
- Behind the scenes, Keough sponsored numerous events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s “Bullring” and at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif. and Madera (Calif.) Speedway. He was responsible for the return of the ARCA Menards Series West to LVMS’ dirt track and – in February 2020 – the circuit’s event at the LVMS Bullring.
- Transplanted Kansan Rick Mears grew up in Bakersfield, Calif., the youngest member of the racing Mears Gang comprised of patriarch Bill and older brother Roger. Rick drove a Chevrolet stock car at Bakersfield Speedway, where Roger was a frequent winner.
- The pair excelled in dune buggy competition at Ascot Park and ultimately desert racing throughout the southwest United States and in Baja California. West Coast Stock Car Hall of Famer Parnelli Jones took an interest in Rick, who shared Jones’ off-road trucks and posted multiple class victories.
- Safety equipment manufacturer Bill Simpson introduced him to U.S. Auto Club championship cars, leading to a career-long association with Roger Penske. With Penske, Mears became one of just three to win the Indianapolis 500 four times – and continues to hold the record for poles (six) and front row starts (11).
- He won the 500 in 1979, 1983, 1989 and 1991. He won three USAC titles (seven wins) and three Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) titles (26 wins). Mears was selected to four International Race of Champions (IROC), finishing second at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Following retirement, Mears, 68, has remained in a consulting role with Team Penske.
Jim Pettit IIwon the 1984 NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Pacific Coast Region championship at age 19. Pettit was one of the most accomplished northern California dirt track late model stock car competitors, competing at tracks in San Jose, Antioch, Watsonville and Merced. Between April and September Pettit and his fellow competitors frequently logged two and sometimes three races each week.Capping his championship season – in which total points/starts were tabulated – Pettit raced on Saturday in California, then with two crew members towed overnight to Portland Speedway, barely making it in time for a Sunday afternoon event. The Seaside, Calif. driver won two NASCAR Elite Series Southwest Tour championships back to back (2004-05), winning eight times. Pettit, 54, finished among the top 10 in more than 50 percent of his Southwest Tour starts (54 of 103).
Jerry Pitts is a three-time ARCA Menards Series West championship crew chief, winning titles with West Coast Stock Car Hall of Famers, Gregg Pursley, Gene Price and Eric Norris. Arguably among the best crew chiefs over the past 15 years, the Bakersfield, Calif. native turned the wrenches en route to 28 West victories and two ARCA Menards Series East triumphs. Both driver and car builder in the 1970s, Pitts’ chassis captured championships at Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and Mesa Marin Raceway. In two stints on the East Coast, Pitts worked for Robert Yates Racing, Bahari Racing and Phoenix Racing in both NASCAR premier series and Xfinity Series with nearly two dozen drivers including Michael Waltrip, Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett and Kyle Busch. Pitts, 58, continues to operate Jerry Pitts Racing in Pahrump, Nev. and is the owner of an ARCA Menards Series West team in 2020.
- From supermodifieds to the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, Spokane, Wash.’s Tom Sneva more than earned the nickname “The Gas Man.”
- Sneva, a high school math teacher and bus driver after graduating from Eastern Washington State University, was a top competitor on the Canadian-American Modified Racing Association (CAMRA) before catching the eye of U.S. Auto Club owners – most notably Roger Penske and later West Coast Stock Car Hall of Famer George Bignotti.
- Driving for Team Penske, Sneva became The Captain’s first champion (USAC, 1977). He won back-to-back 500 poles in 1977-78, ultimately winning the race in 1982 – the last 500 triumph by chief mechanic Bignotti.
- Sneva won 10 Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) events, notably four of them at Phoenix Raceway. He competed in eight NASCAR premier series races with a best finish of seventh in the 1983 Daytona 500.
- Sneva, 71, was selected to five International Race of Champions (IROC) events, posting a best finish of second in 1985 at Daytona International Speedway.
Owen A. Kearns