IRL: Unser Sr. to be honored by U.S. Coast Guard

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, May 13, 2004 -- Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Sr. will be presented with the Coast Guard Meritorious Public Service Award on May 19 in Washington, D.C. The ceremony, which will also honor five Congressman, will...

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, May 13, 2004 -- Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Sr. will be presented with the Coast Guard Meritorious Public Service Award on May 19 in Washington, D.C. The ceremony, which will also honor five Congressman, will take place at the Rayburn House Office Building.

Unser has volunteered his time and services to assist the United States Coast Guard in its national boating safety program and its objective of increasing public awareness of carbon monoxide poisoning hazards.

Unser, who now serves as a driver coach and consultant for the Indy Racing League, nearly fell victim to carbon monoxide poisoning while boating on Arizona's Lake Powell in 1995.

After a wind storm, the anchor line got wrapped around the propeller of the right engine of Unser's boat. Unser left the light plant running while he dove underneath the water to try and free the line from the propeller.

"There's an airspace, and I would come up and get a breath of air and go back down to get the prop loose, but I was breathing actually 100 percent carbon monoxide," Unser said. "It was in a pocket in back of the boat, and the air can't escape. Instead of just a little bit that you could take, I was breathing 100 percent.

"I never lost consciousness, but I couldn't walk. I couldn't get up. They had to pull me back up. I should have died. It was that bad."

After being hospitalized and given oxygen for several hours, Unser recovered.

"There are so many people that die every year from it," Unser said. "They're trying to prevent that from happening, and keep kids and people from the back of the boat, diving and playing when the engines are running. They don't even know that there's carbon monoxide gas back there. They have know idea. Pretty soon you lose your senses, your equilibrium, and you drown."

Recreational boaters can be at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning both inside and outside of the boat due to gasses produced by engines and generators.

Unser's partnership with the Coast Guard has helped educate more than 20 million people about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning while boating. In addition to his work with the Coast Guard, Unser remains active in autoracing as a driver coach and consultant with the Indy Racing League.

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The 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season continues with the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC and the IMS Radio Network. The Menards Infiniti Pro Series Futaba Freedom 100 will take place at 2 p.m. (EDT) on May 22. The race will be broadcast live by ESPN2.

-irl-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Sr.