EXCERPTS FROM AL UNSER JR./RICK GALLES PRESS CONFERENCE, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, April 27, 2000 AL UNSER JR.: "It's great weather out there today, and it's great to be back. It's very special. I just ran some laps this morning out there.
EXCERPTS FROM AL UNSER JR./RICK GALLES PRESS CONFERENCE, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, April 27, 2000
AL UNSER JR.: "It's great weather out there today, and it's great to be back. It's very special. I just ran some laps this morning out there. The track's virtually the same thing as it was five years ago. It's a little bit rougher down the main straightaway, I noticed, and the timing tower is all changed and Gasoline Alley doesn't look like Gasoline Alley anymore. But it looks really good. Like I said, it's great to be back and run some laps after five years."
RICK GALLES: "I echo the same thing. I just can't believe the changes going on here. We thought that the big change was 1984 or 1985 when they went to the new garages (Editor's note: the current garages were first used at the 1986 Indianapolis 500), and it's pretty impressive. It's going to be an exciting time this year."
QUESTION: "Al, what were the emotions like going out for the first time this morning? It had to be a strange feeling being back."
UNSER: "I was pretty excited this morning. We got in last night, and we were up real early this morning and very excited about getting out there and getting around. The last laps I did in a single-seat open wheel race car was my qualifying attempt when I missed the show in '95, before I took that long walk down pit lane. I had been back here once since then, which was in the IROC race which we tried really hard to win, but Mark Martin seems to have everybody covered in that series. When I pulled out of the pits, it was great. Great to be back. All the same feelings, you know, the tradition, the heritage of this place just came screaming back and it was wonderful."
Q: "Because of what happened five years ago, do you feel sort of a mission to get back on track here with this race?"
UNSER: "Well, yeah, the mission I have is making the show. That is the mission. I didn't think it possible that I could miss the show here, with all the years we tried and winning the race twice and all that stuff. I remember talking to my dad about how we were running in race tires and stuff like this in '95 and he goes, 'Al, you better get the thing in the show before you worry about race tires,' and I said, 'Oh yeah, no problem.' And low and behold, Emerson and I didn't make it. The mission right now is to get it in the show."
Q: "Talk about coming into to Indy with a full head of steam after winning (at Las Vegas) this past weekend."
UNSER: "We've got great momentum right now. We don't think we can win in the IRL, we know we can win, and there's a big difference. However we did it ... I see a lot of articles out there talking how cars were slowing down, and we weren't passing anybody ... I think that's what racing is. That's how you win races. You build a reliable piece, and when other guys have their tires going off and slowing down, that's how you pass cars and win races. I don't care how they slow down or anything, I just care about leading the last lap and winning the race. That's what you take home. It's great the team is all fired up and we've got great strategy. We've had good strategy the whole time. With Rick I've got tons of experience as far as calling the race, and the crew guys are doing a great job on the car. We're real happy right now and we need to keep this ball rolling that we started rolling in Vegas."
Q: "Talk about being back with Rick Galles. You two both won the 500 together for your first win. Talk about how things have come together. Is it the way it used to be between you guys and the team, or have things changed there as well?"
UNSER: "Because of the time change, this is a new time. I really feel that Vegas started a new chapter in my life. The old chapter is definitely closed, and that book is done and on the bookshelf. Everything's different. We look at things way different than we did in 1983 when both the team and us were rookies. Nothing's the same, so we're taking everything we've learned over the last 18 or 20 years and trying to apply it to make this race."
Q: "Two of the (Indy 500s) you drove, against Emmo in '89 and the race with Goodyear, were two of the most exciting in history. Are you going to put on another show like that?"
UNSER: "No, not at all! Those were way too close, and of course we lost the one with Emerson in '89. We hope to come out here and just have a good, consistent race and make it the 500 miles. If we can do that, hopefully we' ll be up front somewhere. Like I said earlier, my primary focus is making the show, and then we'll start thinking about how we'll win it."
Q: "With the new consolidated format, does that change how you approach the race?"
UNSER: "No, with the month being shortened, there's still a full week of practice prior to qualifying. There's just as much down time. There's not that second week of qualifying and practice, so it's going to be accelerated a bit, which is good. I think all the crews and drivers like the shortened schedule, so it won't change anything on how we attack the race from what we used to do."
Q: "Rick, describe how things have changed for you. You've gone from a point not too long ago where you weren't sure you were going to be in racing anymore to a point where you're coming to Indy as a race winner."
GALLES: "I think it all goes back to how we approach racing. The reason I was going to get out was not necessarily because we couldn't afford it. We were just tired of spending our own money and not being able to do it right. The IRL started out as a new series and maybe not quite as competitive. It's grown into what I think is the most competitive racing series I've been involved in. In order to do it right, you have to spend the money and do the things you have to do to win, and we just wouldn't make that commitment anymore. The day I decided to stop was just before Phoenix a couple years ago, and I sat and watched it on TV. And I told my wife, 'I don't want to do this again. This is too hard watching it on TV.' We got a call the next day and got our program going. This year I decided I had to do the same thing I did in '88. I had to make a commitment to Al to bring this thing forward. We wanted Al back, and I new Al could lead us to some more wins, and potentially to try to win a championship. We want to try to win our fourth championship, and win every series we've run in. We won in Super Vee, Can-Am and CART, and our goal is to win this championship. I called him on the phone, and it was a really funny phone call. I said, 'Al, do you want to come back and drive for me?' He asked me if I was serious, and I said, 'Yeah,' and he said, 'Let me call you back.' So about 10 minutes later I got a phone call and he said, 'You really want me back? How much do you want me back?' Al made a commitment, and it was a very special bond that the two of us were able to form this team, and we are back to the level I want it. Unfortunately there's some really good teams right now, and we've got to fight hard to compete against these guys. I don't care what anybody says, and I won't get into any politics. I watched the unedited (Las Vegas) tape where you could watch through the commercials and see all the racing. There was some real wheel-banging out there, I mean these guys were getting after it. It's unbelievably competitive, we've got some good young drivers and the teams' pit stops are getting better. I credit Chip Ganassi for coming out here this year with his tough schedule. I don't think I've been this excited since '83 when I saw my transporter pull into the Indy 500 for the first time, so we're real excited."
Q: "Al, last year we saw you here visiting with (cousin) Robby (Unser) the morning of the race. Assuming Robby gets a ride, is racing with your cousins something you'd hope to do at Indianapolis."
UNSER: "I hope that there's three Unsers running at Indianapolis. It's never been done before, and I know my dad's talked about it. To have that kind of family involvement is very special, so hopefully Robby will find a ride, and I know Johnny has. Next is making sure all three of us make the show, and if we can do that it will be a very, very special day for my whole family."
Q: "Getting back to the 1992 race, we talked with Scott Goodyear about it, and he had his disappointment lasted until December. Does that event still stick in your mind? Do you relive it every now and then?"
UNSER: "Every time I'm put on hold at the Speedway I relive it. It's special. What can I say? To have the closest finish (in Indy 500 history) and be on the winning side of it is very special. It's very special to me and I know Scott definitely pushed me those last seven or eight laps, and it was a very exciting event. It parallels right there in '89, with the big difference of me pulling into Victory Lane. For anybody, their first win at Indianapolis is the big one. It's the one they really cherish in their heart, and the same goes with me."
Q: "You've got some of the old (drivers) from your previous time here but (also) a lot of new drivers. How do you assess the overall competitiveness of this league at this point?"
UNSER: "The Northern Light Series is very competitive. You've got some strong teams out there with some good talent. When you start talking about the Indy 500, it gets real competitive throughout, from one to 33. And that is what's special about this event. You've got all this practice time and everything. I've said it before that come Race Day, if you're in the race you're one of the 33 best in the country and everybody has it right. It really comes down to the good Lord saying it's your day or it's not your day ... over the years running at Indianapolis I've learned that. You've got to prepare to make it your day."
Q: "How would you describe your hunger of joining your father and your uncle as a three-time Unser winner?"
UNSER: "My hunger is real strong on making the show. And that's it. That's what we've got to do right now, and that's all I'm after. We'll start really thinking about the race once we get this thing in the show and make sure we' re going to be here on Memorial (Day) weekend. I've watched this race twice from the infield. Once was '95 and then the second time was last year, and I can't take it. It's no fun. I want to be out there mixing it up with the boys. If (winning a third time) could ever happen that would be really neat. I could join Uncle Bobby (Unser) as a three-time winner, and Johnny Rutherford. It would be an elite group. I haven't really given it much thought. My main focus has been getting that thing in the show and going from there."
Q: "The winners of the first three Northern Light Series races of 2000 have come from the back. You said (before) that one of the things you've got to concentrate on is qualifying. Do you feel it's really vital here to qualify up front."
UNSER: "In the Northern Light Series, because you're oval racing, the qualifying isn't as critical as if you're on a road course where guys can block you when there's only one place to pass on a racetrack. On an oval you have many, many different lines. If your car's better you can set the guy up and pass him because he can't block you everywhere. That's why you've seen the winners come from where they've come. You need to hit your pit stops right and you need to have a good clean, consistent race. The winner's of the first three (2000 Northern Light Series) events have done the best job of that. It's critical only in the aspect of the first few laps. You've got a lot of traffic in front of you, and things can happen. I learned my lesson the hard way. I broke my leg last year at Homestead because we qualified 14th or 15th. If you keep qualifying like that in the back, pretty soon you' re going to get bit. And that's what happened to me at Homestead. We need to get ourselves up in the first two or three rows, and if we can do that at Indianapolis then we've got a real good shot at winning the race."