There's no generation gap when it comes to Andretti and Unser family members. American racing's first families are now on the third round of racers as both Marco Andretti and Al Unser ready to compete in the third annual Futaba Freedom 100 Menards Infiniti Pro Series race this Friday.
This race marks Andretti's first oval contest and second Pro series drive. He made an auspicious debut by winning both pole and race at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg April 3rd. Marco turned 18 on March 13th and was barred from racing prior to attaining that age.
Unser, at the ripe age of 22 began competing in the Pro series last season, beginning with the Kansas round. In eight 2004 races he scored five third place finishes and wound up eighth in the standings.
Neither one of these third generation drivers has raced on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval but both did get an opportunity to test here last month in anticipation of this event and the support race for the United States Grand Prix on June 18th. The Menards Infiniti Pro Series is the first series to ever race at the Brickyard for more than one event in a single season.
Al Unser's first memory of being at Indy are quite extraordinary: "I remember being put into a real big Simpson bag and snuck into the garage area" when he was a kid. Unser never revealed if it was his father Little Al or grandfather Big Al who placed him in that bag, and probably never will.
Marco Andretti recalls being at the Speedway Motel (now Brickyard Crossing) and hearing the names of his father Michael and grandfather Mario over the loudspeaker. "I wasn't around for the '69 victory," he said tongue firmly in cheek.
Both of these young men will be taking their first laps on the Indy oval in anger this weekend and, for Marco Andretti the first laps in any oval competition. "My third lap out (during his test session) I was flat. That was with a lot of downforce, but we just started trimming out. To be honest," Marco admitted, "it came no problem.
"That's just the thing my grandfather and my dad want to keep in my mind is that this place can bite you. You have to respect this place. They said," he reported, "and I don't know how much this is going to be true in our cars, they said that the track will be totally different than it was at the test. It's much warmer now so there will be less downforce and it will be greasier."
While Unser gets tips from his famous grandfather, one of only three drivers to win three Indy 500s, but "ultimately I'm the only one in the car and they're not going to turn the steering wheel or feel any of the car movements, so it comes down to what we can do."
Unser's father has a different engagement this weekend, as sister Cody graduates from high school. Al Unser Jr. will be there to enjoy that moment, his son said.
As so often happens in the racing game, Al Unser and Marco Andretti knew of each other but had not met until they were racing against one another. "We pretty much charted each other's progress coming up because obviously you want to know how he's doing," Andretti confirmed. "We just met and we've just started hanging out together the last month or two. Hopefully we continue." Andretti considers Unser a "good rival".
Unser recalls, "Definitely one month out of the year we were here at the same time being kids, but there's a large break in there during our adolescence where we didn't know each other.
"But now that we're in the same series, we're here on the same days and we've definitely gotten a lot of interaction, gotten to know each other. We went to dinner in St. Pete together; we hang out just like any other two guys do." Unser considers any competition between himself and young Andretti "a family rivalry, but between Marco and me, it's really not a rivalry. It's more the Andretti-Unser thing."