It's hard to believe that right now, in 2004, there is only one Unser driving in open wheel racing. Al Unser, the third generation pilot, who made a fine Menards Infiniti Pro Series debut at Kansas Speedway on July 3rd is proud to carry on in the...
It's hard to believe that right now, in 2004, there is only one Unser driving in open wheel racing. Al Unser, the third generation pilot, who made a fine Menards Infiniti Pro Series debut at Kansas Speedway on July 3rd is proud to carry on in the family business and hopes to do so in a manner similar to his famous father and grandfather who share the same name.
When the third Al Unser decided he wanted to be a professional racer, he discussed the decision with father Al Unser Jr. and grandfather Al Unser, both of whom asked the kid if he was sure he wanted to do this. The 21- year-old "started with driving schools and went from there," he explained.
There was more to it than that, as Alfred Richard Unser (his full name) became Rookie of the Year in the Skip Barber Western Racing Series in 2002 with six victories and finished seventh in the Formula Dodge National Championship the same season. Last year he moved to the Barber Dodge Pro Series and recorded four top-ten results.
"My father and grandfather reminded me that racing is hard work before I got into it. They said if racing were easy, everyone would do it. But I'd made up my mind this was what I really wanted," he said with true determination.
Al has learned a lot from both of his forbearers, particularly at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "My grand-dad knows Indy. He knows that only the last lap really matters. In 1987 it was all strategy that got him the win; he didn't lead lots of laps but he led the important one, the last lap," Unser said almost by rote.
Examining his father's troubles, Unser admitted he has "learned what not to get into on and off the track."
Al Unser did his Menards Infiniti Pro Series rookie test with Sam Schmidt Motorsports earlier in the year and, when the opportunity presented itself to drive the Western Union #2 Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone racer for Keith Duesenberg Racing, Unser was ready and able. "We did a test at Milwaukee and went from there," he noted.
Unser entered the Menards Infiniti Pro Series just as his father announced retirement from the Indy Racing League's premier IndyCar Series and there was plenty of hype about both the entry and exit. "Us coming in and Dad retiring focused attention to me and I'm happy for that.
"I feel some pressure having to live up to the name and I'll take it. The only expectations I feel I have to live up to are those of bringing the car home and rolling it back onto the trailer," he declared. "There's no added pressure and that takes the weight off me and lets me have fun with this."
Unser did not come to Kansas under ideal conditions, as the Pro series cars had only a short practice session when rain inundated the area, washing out qualifying. While his competitors realized their practice times would set a grid, Unser was still learning the car, the track and the guys he was racing against in Saturday's 100-mile event.
"I have to thank Keith Duesenberg Racing for a great setup. They allowed me to go out and set some decent practice times but practice ended up being qualifying. I had a decent car but I needed to do some drafting so I could feel the car's reaction behind another driver. The team made some changes and I had a great race car," Unser said.
"Dad talked to me before the racing about bringing the car home. He advised me not to risk damaging the equipment and let the other guys go off and do their things. 'Let the race come to you' is what he told me. Johnny Rutherford and my grandfather advised me to 'just finish the race'," which he did with the third spot on the podium.
After finishing third in Kansas, Unser's father did have some advice: "He told me to close up on Paul Dana, to get a little closer because as the air comes off the car it's not as disturbed when you're way close to the car in front," Unser recalled.
Preparing for this weekend's CleanEvent 100 on the Nashville Superspeedway concrete surface, Unser expects to work on his starts and restarts a bit more. "I have to see how drivers react and what they do on the starts and restarts. On the second restart in Kansas, we made up some positions" to get to the podium.
"Strategy changes at each track. Nashville is shorter than Kansas and it does have a way different surface. We'll have to do set-up stuff and we are going into this race with high hopes," Unser said.
Right now Unser is negotiating with Keith Duesenberg Racing in the hopes of doing "a couple more or the rest of the [Menards Infiniti Pro Series] season. I still want to race some Toyota Atlantic Championship events this year (after competing in the season opener at Long Beach in April) to get some more road racing experience because I know the IndyCar and Pro series are both going road racing in 2005. I need the experience."
He may need some experience, but Al Unser Jr.'s elder son already has the PR angle down as well as his father and grandfather. It probably won't be long before he, too, can add his name to the famed Borg Warner Trophy, emblematic of victory in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.