Mike King: Before we hear from Al, the folks at Indianapolis Speedway Productions, IMS Productions, assembled the videotape to take a stroll down Memory Lane, take a look back on the career of Al Unser Jr. (Video shown.) King: Unfortunately, I...
Mike King: Before we hear from Al, the folks at Indianapolis Speedway Productions, IMS Productions, assembled the videotape to take a stroll down Memory Lane, take a look back on the career of Al Unser Jr.
King: Unfortunately, I was not anchoring the radio network when Al won the 500 in '92 and '94. But it is certainly an honor to be able to say I caught a couple of Al's wins during his IndyCar Series career. Just a quick story. You know, I remember so well that day in 1989 when Little Al and Emmo got together, and Al got out of that car after taking a real hard lick, walked to the apron and gave the thumbs-up to Emmo. And then three years later on such a cold day here at the Speedway, it was not a great Race Day. I remember Al taking the checkers in that Galmer chassis, and how happy the people in this facility were. I'm not just talking about of the guys on Al's team, but, you know, you felt a genuine affection for Al Unser Jr. and for the Unser family by the hundreds of thousands of fans that were in this facility. Then again, to win it in '94. And then to think back, and, Al, I'll never forget that day that you were walking down pit lane after failing to qualify in '95, and I unfortunately had the assignment of trying to stick a mic in your face to get a reaction from you, because that was one of my first assignments for the radio network, working the pits. I remember feeling like something just wasn't right when you missed the race. Bottom line is, one thing is certain in all of our lives, and that's change. Time for your life to take a bit of a change. I know that you have an announcement, certainly not the best kept secret in the racing world over the last couple days, but you have something you'd like to say to everyone gathered here.
Al Unser Jr.: Thank you, Mike. Well, you can't keep a secret in this town, that's for sure (laughter). I want to thank all the media for coming today. I've always said that the day that I'm not enjoying myself and not having fun driving race cars, that I would get out. That day has come. So I^Òm here today to announce that I^Òm retiring driving race cars. And when I called Pat, told him about my decision, he was very adamant that I remain with Patrick Racing. So in some fashion I^Òll be a part of Patrick Racing. You know, the details we^Òre going to work out once we get to Kansas, so on. And we^Òll go from there. I told him I^Òd be honored to remain with Patrick Racing as a consultant or an advisor or even a spotter, anything I can do to help the team win races, to be the true championship team they are.
I'd like to take this time to thank some people. I'll start with my mom and dad. My dad for getting me that go kart when I was 9 years old, putting me in it, and teaching me everything that I know. He still hasn't taught me everything he knows. But we'll keep working on that as time goes on. My mom, for letting me get in the go kart and then being there for me when we had our accidents. You know, I know it was hard for my mom that first time I crashed at Michigan at 200. She came to the house there in Albuquerque and was just shaking like a leaf. I know it was hard on my mom, but I want to thank her for her love and letting me do it.
I'd like to thank Rick Galles and the whole Galles family for bringing me to Indianapolis. They're the ones that basically started my racing career from the Super Vees to the Can-Ams, to coming here at Indy in '83. And then I won my first national championship with Rick. And then, of course, my first Indy 500 was driving for Rick Galles. Knowing what it meant to me, it was very special.
I'd like to thank the late Doug Shierson for giving me that special year in 1985 when I lost that championship to my father by one point, which proves that he didn't teach me everything he knows (laughter). Driving for him was very special. You'll be missed, Doug.
I'd like to thank Roger Penske for that wonderful, powerful 209 cubic-inch engine that he gave me to win my second Indy 500 and also to go on and win my second national championship. Driving for Roger was a very special time, a very great time in my career.
I'd like to thank Tom Kelley for being a friend at a time that he could have been a car owner. He supported me in a very rough time at that time in my career. I'd like to thank him and his family for really sticking with me and supporting me.
I'd like to thank all of my crew members for all the late hours that they worked on my car. When I had the crashes. Someone ran into me, you know. They'd work all night to fix it. I'd like to thank my crew members ^Å When they were just ready to go home, I'd come out of my motorhome, run to them and go, "I'd been thinking about something, I need to make a change to the car. Will you guys stay and do it?" to get that last 10th of a second. All of my crew members, I^Òve driven for a lot of people, they^Òre the unsung heroes of our business. My crew are very special people.
I'd like to thank my fans for supporting myself and open wheel racing. I definitely hope it continues, that support for open wheel racing continues. The IRL is the best series in the world. I'm very lucky to be a part of it.
And finally I'd like to thank Pat Patrick for believing in me this year, for hiring me, putting me in his race car as a driver, and sticking by me and so on. With that, I'd like to open it up with some questions. I do have another announcement that I'd like to make today, and that is that my son, as I begin this new chapter in my life, my son is going to be driving for Keith Duesenberg and the Western Union Speed Team at Kansas this weekend. So I'm very excited about that, and I'm very happy that I can be concentrating on his the beginning of his career now, not worrying about what springs are going to be going in my car, but we're worrying about springs are going to be going in his car.
King: Today's press conference will be transcribed. In addition, we have several members of the media around the country joining us on the teleconference. We will get to all of your questions here. We'll also get to the folks on the teleconference. But we need to make sure we get a mic in front of you.
Q: Al, it wasn't a great weekend in Richmond. Was this a decision you had been contemplating prior to this past weekend or was this weekend was the you know what, it was time to go.
Unser: It was a my decision was made on Sunday after the Richmond race. It really didn't have anything to do with the performance or the results of Richmond. I really feel that every race car driver would love to go out the way that Gil de Ferran went out last year, you know winning his last race and sitting on the pole, and all that. But, quite honestly, the only one I can think of that's done that is Gil de Ferran. My dad, A.J., Rick Mears, Mario Andretti, you just know when it's time. That's why I never had a set date. I love racing, and you have to have a passion for it. You have to put it before anything else especially at this level of competition. As a driver, you have to ^Å racing has to come before everything in your life.
I guess I reached the time in my life, helping my son and my daughters, my little 7 year old, little Joey. He^Òs coming. That means more to me today than driving it into Turn 1 wide open. You reach a time where that happens. I look back on my career; I've had a great career, you know. It's been a challenge. It's been hard to follow in the footsteps that I've followed. I have a great family with my father, with my Uncle Bobby. Quite honestly, I feel that I've upheld the Unser name quite well and that they^Òd be proud of me.
King: Before we open it to the floor, your dad's reaction when you told him you were going to retire?
Unser: My dad's reaction was, "Are you sure?" You know, as we talked, you know, he agreed with me. I mean, he was very supportive, like I was with him when he told me about his when he told me he was planning on retiring in ^Ñ94, it was a practice day here at the Speedway. My first response to him was, "Are you sure?" You know, you know. As a driver, you know when it's time to hang up the helmet, and my dad was very supportive of it. He was very, very good to me about it.
King: We'll open it up to questions here at Indianapolis.
Q: You've mentioned all the reasons that have come together regarding your son driving in the Infiniti Pro Series race and your family coming up. What catalyzed your decision to retire now?
Unser: It was time. I mean, like I've always said, you know, the day that I quit enjoying it, the day that I quit having fun driving cars is going to be the day that I get out. That day has come. There was no set reasons; there was no set time. I mean, I^Òve got a great team with Patrick Racing. The guys really worked very hard, and they^Òve given me a great car to drive and so on, and, you know, I've given them my best. So I just felt that it was time, that a driver knows when his heart's in it. Like I said, at this level of competition, the amount of commitment you have to have, the desire, sacrifice, the ability or whatever to drive it into those corners and make racing number one in your life, it has to be there. My hat's off to all the IRL drivers today. They're a young generation that are standing on the gas like there's no tomorrow, and that's the way you have to drive cars. Mario Andretti said it, there's a fine line between aggressive and being too aggressive. You have to be right there if you're going to win races. I just felt that it was time, that I^Òm not going to be that aggressive or too aggressive. It was just time.
Q: Talking about Bobby Rahal yesterday, Mario, Rick Mears, they all said the same things, "Cleanest guy to race with, didn^Òt chop you, trust him running in the corners." Does that mean as much, to hear all the guys that were your peers, that you ran wheel to wheel with for 15 years, does that mean as much to you as the trophies, as anything else?
Unser: Very much, to hear that true legends of our sport that I've raced against, that I've looked up to my whole career have said the things they've said about me, it is an honor. It^Òs something that I'm very proud that they could trust me running wheel to wheel with them at any time at any track.
Q: When you look back on your career and 20 years from now, how do you want people to remember you? What will you look back on your career?
Unser: In my career, my greatest moments were winning the Indy 500 to begin with, both times. Each one had its own separate challenges, you know. First year was a chassis that no one else had in the series, the Galmer. The second year was the 209 engine that no one else had in the series. Each one of them, the championships that we've won, took a lot of races, not just one race, it took a lot of races and a consistent performance from the team to win those championships. All of my crews, without them I couldn't have won those races, and I couldn^Òt have done the things that I've done in my career. When I look back on my career, like I said earlier, I had some mammoth footsteps to follow in my father, my Uncle Bobby and my family. On Thanksgiving Day when the family gets together, I can hold my head up high and be proud of what we've done and accomplished.
Q: Talk a little more about the time at Indy, that first race in '83 when you came out and told us afterwards that you were blocking for your dad, so that he might win.
Unser: It wasn't blocking (laughter). That's what I said.
Q: Describe some of the disappointments, the ^Ò89 race, battling Emmo and so forth.
Unser: Well, first off, I wasn't blocking for my dad. If I was blocking for my dad, my dad would have won that race. I'm that infamous lapped that just gave Tom Sneva fits. I guess along those lines, you know, I introduced myself to the Indy 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and all of its fans. You know, I can tell you that I'm very proud of the fact that I'm on a number of those paintings in that museum without winning or being the winner of the race. When you^Òve done that, that means you've made an impact somehow, the people knew that you were there that year.
So, you know, in '83, the first father-son to race against each other, it came down to kind of a dramatic finish there when I was trying to help dad out and so on, but he just didn^Òt go fast enough, really. That's what I blame that on. He was supposed to go faster than what he did.
You know, '89, it was ... I feel that was really one of my best races that I had ever driven at Indy because Emerson dominated all day long. We came up, and we had a strategy going that particular day that Emerson had to stop, and I didn't. We had the boosts all turned down and was making great fuel mileage and just praying it wasn't a yellow to come out. Emerson would have pitted, and we would have long been way ahead. But there was yellow that came out, so you had to turn the boost up and race him. We passed him, and basically we got to a position where he couldn^Òt get me unless there was lap traffic. That's exactly what happened, we ran into lap traffic. It allowed him to make a move on me. Sometimes in racing, that's all I takes is that little bit to make the move on you.
Everybody was going for the same piece of real estate there in Turn 3, and only one was going to come out. There was a lot of special time. I believe it was 1990 when I came in on Friday before qualifying day, I went out and I did a 228-mph lap, and we were the fast guy and the favorites going into qualifying next day. There's been a lot of fond memories that I have, of especially the Indy 500.
But also the Long Beach Grand Prix; there^Òs a lot of fond memories about that place, Toronto, Milwaukee. Just about everywhere we've gone we've had some success, and if not, we worked very hard to get it. Not only just the open wheel racing, but all the success that I've had with 24 Hours at Daytona, winning it twice, racing with the late Al Holbert; he was a super person, and he believed in us. All those years that I spent in the IROC series, getting to race different guys that were at the top of their sport.
Being a friend of the late Dale Earnhardt. I always enjoyed racing against him. There was one thing about Dale Sr., and that was he was real happy with you as long as you were behind him. (laughter) That was the one thing about Dale, you were his best buddy as long as you were behind him. We had a lot of fun times in the IROC series.
Continued in part 2.