VETERAN Indycar team owner U.E. ‘Pat’ Patrick passed away in Phoenix at the age of 91 following a long illness.
A three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 as a team owner, the CART World Series’ arrival on the Gold Coast in the 1990s meant his Patrick Racing outfit was a regular presence on our shores.
Patrick’s squad claimed a pair of wins at Surfers Paradise, first with Scott Pruett in 1997 – the last time the event was held early in the year prior to its move to October – and again with Adrian Fernandez in 2000.
Those victories came with the third iteration of his decorated squad.
After beginning his professional career in accounting, Patrick made his fortune in the 1960s after successful ‘wildcat’ drilling efforts in the Michigan area led to the founding of an independent oil company, Patrick Petroleum Co.
Patrick reflected those humble beginnings in the name of his team’s Indycar chassis: Wildcat
Patrick’s entry into Indycar racing came through sponsorship of fellow oilman Walt Michner’s team in the late 1960s.
Patrick formed his own team in 1970, and won the Indianapolis three years later when Gordon Johncock triumphed in the rain-shortened 1973 event, though it was a bittersweet victory – Johncock’s teammate Swede Savage later succumbed to injuries suffered in a violent, fiery crash during the race, while a team mechanic was killed when hit by a fire/safety truck while crossing pit lane in the aftermath of Savage’s crash.
Patrick won the ‘500 again in happier circumstances in 1982, when Johncock held off a charging Rick Mears by a just 0.16 of a second in one of the most exciting finishes in the race’s history.
His third and final triumph at the Brickyard came at a turning point for his operation.
Patrick struck a deal with Chip Ganassi to buy into the operation as a co-owner for 1989, running Penske chassis with Marlboro backing for Emerson Fittipaldi, and the former F1 world champion famously fought off Al Unser Jr to win at Indianapolis.
Ganassi took full ownership of the team at the end of the season, which morphed into the Chip Ganassi Racing squad that has been a benchmarks of Indycar racing for the past three decades.
Instead of retiring from the sport, Patrick took over Alfa Romeo’s fledgling CART outfit for 1991; his Miller-backed entry for Danny Sullivan finished fourth in the inaugural Gold Coast event.
Patrick sold that team to Bobby Rahal and Carl Hogan at the end of the year, and over time it morphed into the highly-successful Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing outfit of the current era.
But Patrick still wasn’t quite done with Indycar racing, and started a new team in the mid-1990s with Pruett as lead driver that, initially, served as a non-racing development squad for Firestone tyres as the company prepared to return to the sport.
The team returned to racing in company with Firestone in 1995, with Pruett, Fernandez and Roberto Moreno all taking race wins in CART competition over the next few years.
Patrick also was instrumental in the founding of both CART and its Indy Lights feeder series, and is one of just seven team owners to have claimed three or more victories in the Indianapolis 500.
Patrick was inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 2016 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2018.
He is survived by three sons and one daughter.