INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011 – Mark Bridges, winning co-chief mechanic with George Bignotti and driver Tom Sneva in the 1983 Indianapolis 500, died Monday, Sept. 19. He was 60.
Bridges was a lifelong Indianapolis resident who was raised within a half-dozen blocks of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was a graduate of Arsenal Technical High School, the famed “Tech,” which produced Wilbur Shaw, Howdy Wilcox II, Jimmy Jackson and Jerry Hoyt, among others, and a standout pupil at Lincoln Technical College. Bridges already was working on “Speedway” cars while still in his teens.
Considered by some to have been a protégé of Paul Brooks, Bridges worked on the Federal Engineering crew with driver Jim Malloy in 1970, looking older than his 19 years.
In 1973, Bridges was paid a supreme compliment by car owner Dick Sommers and team manager Dick Northam by being named as the MVS team’s chief mechanic at age 22, calling the shots for driver Sam Sessions.
After a stint with Grant King, Bridges became part of the Vel’s Parnelli Jones squad, usually assigned to Mario Andretti but also working with Al Unser. He was part of Andretti’s winning crew with the 1974 USAC Dirt Car series (forerunner of Silver Crown), scoring firsts at Springfield and Du Quoin.
Following the 1983 Indianapolis victory with Sneva and Bignotti-Cotter Racing, Bridges was back with the team for a second-place finish with Roberto Guerrero in 1984. Other assignments included Patrick Racing with Gordon Johncock and Wally Dallenbach, the Machinists Union with Josele Garza and Kevin Cogan, Jack Rhoades with Chip Ganassi in Ganassi’s rookie year as a driver, Dick Simon with Scott Brayton, Forsythe with Teo Fabi, Playa Del Racing with Jaques Lazier, Frank Arciero, John Menard and numerous others.
Highly respected for his ability to work with a variety of “characters” and for his talent for transforming a group of apparent “strange bedfellows” into a functioning crew, Bridges eventually moved into stints as an official.
He worked with former crew chief Mike Devin as Devin’s assistant in the technical department at USAC in 1995 and ’96 and then in a similar role for several years with Phil Casey at INDYCAR. Friends who felt Bridges never looked completely comfortable behind a desk were not surprised when he left INDYCAR and returned to working on race cars.
Working closely with sons David and Michael all the way from their quarter-midget racing days up through full midgets and even sprint cars, one of Bridges’ proudest days came in 2007, when, as chief mechanic for Ron Hemelgarn’s team in the “500” with driver Richie Hearn, he had Michael on the air jack and David on the left rear wheel.
Bridges is survived by his wife, Marlene; daughter, Julie Wilkinson; sons David and Michael; and four grandchildren.
A celebration of Bridges’ life will take place from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24 at the Brickyard Crossing Pavilion at IMS, with eulogies beginning at 2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Mark Bridges Memorial Fund at any Chase Bank location.