IRL: Al Unser Jr press conference, part II

Indy Racing League June 10, 2003 Part 2 of 2 Al Unser Jr. Q: I just wanted to ask you going back to last year, you did sit out a couple races, and I'm sure there were times when you felt a little uncertain about your future. Were there any...

Indy Racing League
June 10, 2003

Part 2 of 2

Al Unser Jr.

Q: I just wanted to ask you going back to last year, you did sit out a couple races, and I'm sure there were times when you felt a little uncertain about your future. Were there any moments when you actually, seriously considered giving up on the career?

Unser: No, I never considered giving up driving race cars. I love doing what I'm doing. And I really feel very fortunate and lucky to be able to do for a living what I truly love doing, which is driving cars. And so, it was really going to be based on the sponsors, and if they were going to stand behind me, and my car owner and Tom Kelley, personally, and his family, the Corteco family, decided to stand behind me and support me, and they helped me the most.

Q: Also, I wanted to go back to an earlier question about one-and-a-half mile tracks, specifically you will be competing at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta on August 17. Have you visited that track before, and if so, what are your thoughts on that, and what do you think of the track as far as the competition there goes?

Unser: Kentucky is a great racetrack and, yes, I've competed there before, and it's a wonderful facility, and there's close racing and side-by-side, wheel-to-wheel racing. And if we have a good day, there's a strong chance of winning that race.

Q: I just wanted to ask, you touched on this a little bit, but given the difficulties last year and the challenges that presented you personally, did Saturday's win kind of fit into a special category for you?

Unser: Yes, it did. I mean, any time you win a race, the rewards are fantastic. It's a reward of all the whole team doing a lot of hard work and sacrifice and everything. And then when you win, the rewards are really great, and they're satisfying, and it was the same case. You know, we all worked very hard to get that win down at Texas, and team worked just as hard as I did and so it was very satisfying. And now we need to move on and think about the IRL championship and go from there.

Q: Since Pikes Peak is so close to Albuquerque, do you consider that a home race?

Unser: I consider it a home race because of Pikes Peak, the hill climb, and how much my family has so much tradition in Colorado Springs. My uncle Bobby, my uncle Jerry, my uncle Louie were all born in Colorado Springs, and then with the hill climb, how many Unser wins are up there and all that sort of thing. And so I really want to bring that down to that oval, from the mountain down to the oval and win there and try to start a tradition that has been there for a long time and move it down to the oval.

Q: Also, one follow-up question. Eddie Cheever and Michael Andretti have recently retired to become team owners. Have you had any thoughts about going in that direction?

Unser: I love driving these cars. And as long as I'm enjoying what I'm doing and I'm competitive, then I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, because I truly enjoy driving them and so on. So that's where I'm going to stay.

Q: Given all the struggles you have been through in the last year or so, what were other drivers' reactions to you winning last weekend? Did you get phone calls from people? What was the reaction from others? I know you're competitive but--?

Unser: I haven't had any talks or anything from any other drivers or anything like that, but there was a lot teams that gave me the thumbs-up when I was coming in to Victory Lane and just my friends and my family. A lot of phone calls and just a lot of support, and it's really felt good.

Q: And as a follow up, you talked about your being, what, the oldest driver in the series? What kind of concessions have you had to make for age? I mean, is it tougher to get out of the bed in the morning, is it tougher to do certain things that you did easily before when you're competing?

Unser: Actually, because of my program that I'm under right now, and based on my alcoholism and all that sort of thing, working out, it's easier to get out of bed in the morning, and I truly enjoy life. I'm up in Chama (N.M.) right now. I'm going to get on my tractor, and I'm going to go cut some grass and do some work around my cabin up here and then head off to Colorado Springs.

Q: So it sound like it's gotten easier. Has it gone a lot easier?

Unser: I wouldn't say easier, what I would say is more enjoyable. I just enjoy life way more than I had in the past.

Q: I'm just curious, you're mentioning on the TV promos now that you're residence is Henderson, Nevada, so first of all I wondered how much time do you actually spend here in Nevada, and second of all what are your thoughts about the prospect of the IndyCar Series returning to Las Vegas Motor Speedway next year?

Unser: I don't get to spend as much time as I'd like to in Henderson. I really love the city. I've got a boat that I go out on Lake Mead, and I enjoy it out there. And I'm very, very excited at the prospect of the IRL getting back to Las Vegas because it's a mile-and-a-half. It's a great oval. We have very close race in there, and I won in the last race there.

Q: That's right.

Unser: So I definitely want to get back there because there's some luck there for me.

Q: You're known as a very clean driver. Competitive always, but very, very clean. There's been a little bit less than that on the IndyCar (Series) circuit this year. Is there anything that you would advise some of the newcomers on the circuit about how they need to keep their noses clean and keep it between those walls?

Unser: I think that everybody out there is a clean driver, and that's what I truly believe. What is going on this year that we've seen is very, very competitive. And when you start pushing the envelope to its max, you know, racing accidents happen. And so, for what we've seen this year, it's been the closest competitive racing that the IRL has ever seen. And with that, when you start pushing that envelope comes little mistakes. And every driver out there is a clean driver and respects the other driver's space and all that, but like I said, when you start pushing that envelope and you start getting out-prided a bit little bit, then it gets real competitive, and so really that's what we've seen this year.

Q: You mentioned the extra commitment the team has given you this year. In what way has that taken place?

Unser: It's just with the people that we've hired. Steve Newey, who's a great engineer, as you know, brought the team to the next level, Paul Harcus, who we refer to as Ziggy. When I won my championship in 1990, he was my left front tire man and mechanic. He's a fantastic gentleman, and just the engineering staff and the mechanics, they've just brought it to the next level. So the whole team has truly stepped up to a different level, and it's showing. I mean, with Scott Sharp winning in Japan, myself winning in Texas, the seeds are now bearing fruit. It's all the hard work that they've done over the winter.

Q: With Richmond two weeks away, you mentioned a little bit about the approach when you know you might rub wheels a little bit, something that's not exactly common on the circuit, how does your approach change?

Unser: It's Saturday night fight at Richmond and so you got to get in there and get your hands dirty and get with the program. Richmond is the smallest oval that we run on. It's very unique in that aspect and so qualifying is very important and so you just need to get with the program.

Q: I wanted to ask you, what do you think of having the yellow to give a one-lap finish like that. First of all, what does a driver that's out in front think as he waits and decides whether he's going to win on the yellow or get that one lap? And then how important is that restart?

Unser: Well, first off, the driver wants to finish under the yellow if he's leading the race. If he's in second place, then he wants the green to come out and have a shot at winning the race. So myself, I was putting a lot of pressure on the Pace Car, and I was wanting to finish it under yellow because I was the leader. But then, we want the fans to see a finish under green and a race for it, and so I had some mixed emotions there about that. But the way that it ended up, it was very good on all aspects. You know, the IRL crew did a fantastic job cleaning up the accident and getting us a green-flag finish, which everybody wants to see and so it was great. I mean it was a wonderful ending. And I guess if I was in Tony Kanaan's spot, I would say, "Well, the ending wasn't all that great because I lost," but being the winner of the race, it was fantastic.

Q: When you were with Galles, your team did a lot of practice for pit stops, and your pit stops in Texas were super. How much does your team practice on pit stops?

Unser: My team practices all the time, and every team out there works hard at these pit stops because they know how competitive the IRL is. So, you know, my guys have worked really, really hard at coming out with great stops. We came so close winning the pit stop competition at Indianapolis, and I love my crew. They've done a great job, and I expect great things in the future from them.

Q: One last question. Ranking this victory, of course Indy, I imagine, is at the top, but how do you rank this victory among all you've had?

Unser: Personally, it's been one of the ones that I have truly, really worked hard at. And you worked hard at all of them, but this one in particular. I've had different challenges in my life that I have to face and I have to deal with, and we've done that, and the good Lord blessed us with the reward of all the perseverance, and all the hard work does pay off, and the good Lord gave it to us.

Q: Thank you. Good luck this week.

Unser: Thank you.

K. Miller: Al, thank you very much for taking time. We know you want to get out to your tractor to work on the farm. So, do get out while you have some time off, and then we wish you the best of luck not only this weekend in Pikes Peak but certainly in a chance to win the Indy Racing League championship this year. Thank you very much.

Unser: Thanks, Kim. And I just want to thank everybody for joining us today. It means a lot and I hope to see you all up at Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs.

-irl-

part I

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Scott Sharp , Michael Andretti , Tony Kanaan , Al Unser