CART Co-Founder, Indy 500-Winning Team Owner Pat Patrick Dies at 91

·7 min read
Photo credit: Darrell Ingham - Getty Images
Photo credit: Darrell Ingham - Getty Images

From Autoweek

  • U.E. "Pat" Patrick co-founded Championship Auto Racing Teams and founded the Indy Lights Series.

  • Patrick, who died on Tuesday at the age of 91, won three Indy 500s and 45 Indy-car races as a team owner.

  • Patrick Racing's greatest season was 1989. That year, Patrick won both the Indianapolis 500 and the CART championship with driver Emerson Fittipaldi.

Veteran IndyCar racer and 1983 Indianapolis 500 winner Tom Sneva ducked into the Patrick Racing hospitality tent at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland during a July CART race weekend in 1995.

"Great to see you!" Sneva said. "What's Up, Pat?"

Patrick, sipping on a Diet Coke, looked up, smiled, and muttered, "Costs."

Welcome to the world of one of Indy-car racing's true giants.

U.E. "Pat" Patrick, a three-time Indianapolis 500-winning team owner, co-founder of Championship Auto Racing Teams with Roger Penske, and founder of the Indy Lights Series, died on Jan. 5 at the age of 91.

Patrick was 66 years old, stopwatch in hand, on that race day in Cleveland back in '95. He was in his first season back racing with his Patrick Pacing team and long-time friend and general manager Jim McGee after a three-year hiatus. Patrick had had enough of the high costs of putting a competitive car on the track. The co-founder of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) no longer cared for the politics of the sport, either.

Photo credit: RacingOne - Getty Images
Photo credit: RacingOne - Getty Images

A failed campaign with Alfa Romeo and driver Danny Sullivan in 1991 helped send Patrick into that first retirement. Sullivan was winless that year for Patrick Racing and never able to get the Alfa Romeo up to speed, finishing 11th in the CART drivers' standings. Patrick walked away that offseason, frustrated after a failed attempt to obtain the powerful Chevrolet Ilmor engine. That engine had won 34 consecutive Indy car races heading into the start of the '92 campaign.

Without a competitive package, Patrick figured, why bother? To Patrick, fielding a car to race in the middle of the pack was like running in place.

"It was just a frustrating ordeal," Patrick said in '95 when looking back on his Alfa Romeo days. "There was only one engine at the time (worth running), and they refused to lease me that engine. Ford came out in '92 and offered me their engine, but I was concerned about getting involved in another development program having just come off the Alfa Romeo deal.

"When I walked away, I thought I was done. I really did."

Photo credit: Mike Powell - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mike Powell - Getty Images

Patrick's return to the sport began in December of 1993 when he and longtime Firestone factory driver Scott Pruett signed on for a year-long, no-racing-involved, Indy-car testing program for Bridgestone-Firestone. Pruett and Patrick spent countless hours in 1994 tire testing.

It was a year of no racing. Just testing.

Patrick's commitment to Firestone's development of Indy car tires is still a point of pride with the manufacturer.

"We actually have one of the original test cars—the Patrick-Firestone-branded, iconic, red, white, and blue car—in the lobby of the new Bridgestone headquarters in Nashville," Lisa Boggs, director of motosports at Bridgestone, told Autoweek. "That tells you what an important part that was of our history, our evolution with the Firestone brand, particularly as it relates to our heritage in Indy car racing and to where we are today."

Photo credit: Todd Warshaw - Getty Images
Photo credit: Todd Warshaw - Getty Images

The Patrick-led testing effort set the stage for Firestone's return to IndyCar after a two-decade hiatus.

"It was very important," Boggs said. "When Firestone was able to partner with Pat Patrick and he was able to put that team together, including Scott Pruett, Jim McGee (chief engineer), Steve Newey, that team showed up at the track and ran thousands and thousands of miles to really get us prepared to get back in Indy car competition in '95.

"And '95 was really quite a successful year. They had the win at the Michigan 500, and we had six top-5 finishes. There was the ability to show what we can do, and then really accelerate the pace of learning, which then drove us to when by 2000, we were the sole tire supplier for IndyCar. "

Pruett called Patrick the ideal racing boss.

"He was tough," Pruett told Autoweek. "He'd bust your balls for sure, without question. But he was fair. That's all you really want from a team owner. He was a competitor and would do whatever it would take to get the right equipment, the right people, the right organization, and he was willing to take chances.

"Early on, it was building his own race car, the Wildcat, and he put together a group to split away from at the time USAC and form CART. And he put together Indy Lights. You saw that dynamic in him. He wasn't afraid to do whatever it took, even if it was against the grain."

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Patrick, a true wildcatter in the business world who made his fortunes in oil, came up a winner with Pruett in the 1995 Michigan 500 at Michigan International Speedway. That day, Pruett outdueled Al Unser Jr. and won on a pass in the last turn to give Patrick his 36th career win as an owner. It was one of two Indy car wins for the versatile Pruett, who went on to become of the the most successful sportscar drivers in history.

"Pat was very in tune," Pruett said. "Obviously, he was successful on the oil and gas side of things. but also very successful across the board on the racing side, as well. Even when doing some things that maybe didn't turn out quite as good as he thought they would, like Alfa Romeo on the IndyCar side, he was able to turn things around and come back.

"He certainly was that guy who gambled, and gambled big. Sometimes it didn't pay off, and sometimes it paid off big. When you look back on his career, the majority of the time it paid off big."

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Patrick clearly came up big with three Indianapolis 500s victories—1973 and 1982 with Gordon Johncock, and again in 1989 with Emerson Fittipaldi. Patrick also won the CART season championship with Fittipaldi in '89.

Other drifers who drove for Patrick included Mario Andretti, Danny Sullivan, Jimmy Vasser, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr., Wally Dallenbach, Johnny Rutherford, Roberto Guerrero, Adrian Fernandez, Raul Boesel, P.J. Jones, Oriol Servia, and Chip Ganassi. Patrick had 45 Indy car wins between 1973 and 2001 as a team owner, the most coming with Johncock (18) and Fittipaldi (11).

Patrick was instrumental in Ganassi's early days as a team owner. The two co-owned an Indy car entry in 1989, before Ganassi split to form his own team in 1990.

Patrick, who lived most of his life in Jackson, Michigan, before moving to Phoenix, last fielded an Indy car team in the Indy Racing League in 2004 for Al Unser Jr.

Patrick was a 2018 inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

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