Rinaman Still Changing Tires At Age 62
INDIANPOLIS — An “Over the Wall” member of an Indianapolis 500 pit crew is normally a strong, agile, athletic and skillful young man who has yet to endure the wear and tear of this stressful job on their bodies.
They must be able to flawlessly perform under some of the most intense and potentially dangerous circumstances in all of professional sports. It is often a job performed by individuals in their 20s and 30s.
And then there is Rick Rinaman, who at 62 years of age is still going over the wall to change the right front tire for Will Power’s No. 12 Verizon entry at Team Penske. He is showing crew members half his age how it is done and can still do it better than those whose bodies have not been beaten up by the physical demands of the sport.
He has displayed remarkable longevity in a position that is certainly not easy.
“The satisfaction is they have the confidence I can do it and fill in for somebody and the satisfaction on my end is being able to do it,” Rinaman said. “I think because of all the years doing it it’s nothing new and it’s a matter of picking up where you left off and getting the rust off and fine-tuning it. It’s like riding a bike; getting back in a groove…but it’s definitely not 20 years ago, that’s for sure.”
Rinaman has been at Penske Racing for 30 years joining the team in 1983. Since that time he has served as chief mechanic for some of the team’s most glorious efforts at the Indianapolis 500. In 1984 he helped Rick Mears score his second Indy 500 win and was on Al Unser’s winning team in 1987 when Unser became the second four-time Indy 500 winner. He was back with Mears in 1988 for his third Indy win and was elevated to the position of crew chief with Unser in 1989.
Emerson Fittipaldi joined Team Penske in 1990 and Rinaman was the chief mechanic that year. By 1993 they were both in Victory Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway celebrating Fittipaldi’s second Indianapolis 500 win.
“I thought we had another win for Emerson in 1994 but of course he had other plans,” Rinaman said, referring to Fittipaldi crashing into the Turn 4 wall while attempting to lap his teammate Al Unser, Jr. with just 16 laps left in the race – a 500 that Unser went on to win. “Then Helio Castroneves came aboard and I was on the winning team in 2001, 2002 and 2009. In 1985 I was with Rick Mears and I was fueling at the time and with his accident in Sanair, Quebec we put Al Unser in the seat every chance we could get. It ended up Al looked pretty good for the championship so he went to Phoenix and blew the field away and then went to Miami and won the championship so that an exciting year.”
When a driver wins the Indianapolis 500 it’s a true team effort that begins back at the race shop. And that is why victory is just as rewarding to the crew members as it is to the driver.
“To just be part of a winning team at Indy is an unbelievable event,” Rinaman said. “If you win once you have that feeling and know what it is to win and you are doing all you can to get back there because it’s the ultimate win. There are a lot of guys that are not fortunate – circumstances or whatever – who have not been in that Victory Circle. They don’t try any less harder than we do. There is luck involved but there is a lot of hard work. To get there once is amazing and to get there as many times as Penske has is unbelievable. It’s hard to believe how many times he has been there.”