IRL: 'Big Al' thrilled about Unser reunion at Orlando

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Monday, Jan. 24, 2000 -- Al Unser Sr. and Al Unser Jr. this week will be reunited once again in auto racing. But if anyone thinks Unser Sr. believes his son is going to come in and wipe out the opposition...

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Monday, Jan. 24, 2000 -- Al Unser Sr. and Al Unser Jr. this week will be reunited once again in auto racing. But if anyone thinks Unser Sr. believes his son is going to come in and wipe out the opposition in Saturday's Indy Racing League season opener -- the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla. - they're completely wrong. "Everybody thinks he's going to kick butt," Unser Sr. said. "He's not going to do it. The IRL guys are not asleep. They run hard, and they've got good teams. "I told him last year to come over and watch these guys stand on the gas." The senior Unser, one of three four-time winners of the Indianapolis 500, has been a driving coach and consultant for the Indy Racing League since it's inception in 1996. Al Jr., a two-time winner at Indy, continued driving for Roger Penske in CART over this same period until he and Penske parted company at the end of the 1999 season. The younger Unser then got back together with his first Indy-car owner, fellow Albuquerque, N.M., resident Rick Galles. Unser Jr. won his first CART championship (1990) and Indy 500 (1992) driving for Galles. He will drive the Galles ECR Racing G Force/Aurora/Firestone machine in the race that kicks off the league's fifth season. Al Sr. isn't disparaging his son's considerable driving talents. He just knows how tough the Indy Racing League competition is and that it will take some time for Al Jr. to adapt. "He'll have to sit back and study things," Unser Sr. said. "He's got to learn the drivers, learn the cars, learn the tracks. It's not an easy chore. He still has to sit down and face it as a new challenge. It's going to be an all-new project. He'll be starting over." Despite his analytical observations about his son's move to the all-oval circuit, Al Sr. is extremely excited that his son has made the switch. "That I am," he said. "It's good for me, it's good for him, it's good for the series. All the way around, it's a good deal." It was back in 1983 when Al Jr., then 21, joined his father, already a three-time winner, at Indy to become the first father-son combination to compete in the same race. It became an even greater story when the younger Unser raced between his father and Tom Sneva at 200 mph in an effort to help his father win for a fourth time. Eventually, Sneva got around both Unsers to score his only Indy victory, with Unser Sr. coming home second. Al Unser Sr., now 60, retired in May 1994 during Indy 500 practice. He drove in 27 Indys, won the race in 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987, and won 39 Indy-style races overall. He won championships in 1970, 1983 and 1985. The last crown came by a 151-150 count over his son when he made a late pass at Miami's Tamiami Park for fourth place to Al Jr.'s third, earning just enough points to beat him. Al Jr. displayed the same talent as his father. He won both the Indy 500 and the CART title in 1994. But at Indy in 1995, both he and teammate Emerson Fittipaldi failed to qualify, one of the most stunning happenings in race history. Unser Jr. scored his 31st career victory later that year at Vancouver, but hasn't won since. Last season he appeared in 17 of the 20 CART races and placed 21st in the standings. Unser Sr. just chuckles at first when it is mentioned that some racing observers say his son's winning ways won't return. "They said the same thing about me, and I came back and won the championship and the Speedway," he said. Unser Sr. indicated that Penske Racing lacked a competitive package in the last few seasons, and that none of the other Penske drivers outran Unser Jr. "I don't think he has lost anything," Unser Sr. said. "When people say he has lost it, they can't say that, because he didn't have a chance." The elder Unser said he had years where he couldn't, as he put it, hit a bull in the hind end with a fiddle, particularly when he was driving the Alfa Romeo and Porsche cars. Al Sr. said "in a way" he encouraged his son to switch circuits. But he didn't take Al Jr. aside and tell him to do this or do that. "He knows the IRL is the way to go," Unser Sr. said. "He's old enough to make his own decisions. He wants to go to Indy; he wants to win it again. Ninety-five percent of the CART guys haven't been there. It still is the greatest race in the world." At Walt Disney World, father and son won't park their motorhomes side by side as they did so many times in the past at Indy. Al Sr. is flying out instead of driving and will work with Brian Barnhart, director of racing operations, during the event. He won't nose around the Galles ECR team making a father pest of himself, either. "I can't," he said. "I won't interfere with Al."

DELPHI INDY 200 AT WALT DISNEY WORLD SPEEDWAY NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway starts at noon (EST) Jan. 29. Pole qualifying starts at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 28. Practice sessions start at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Jan. 27, and 10 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. Jan. 28.

An autograph session with all Indy Racing drivers is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 28 in the Midway outside Turn 3 at the track. The USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet Series 50-lap feature starts at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 29, with qualifying for that event at 2 p.m. Jan. 28. *** On the air: The Delphi Indy 200 will be televised live on ABC at noon (EST) Jan. 29 on ABC. The debut of "Indy Racing 2Day" will be at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 29 on ESPN2. ESPN2 will televise pole qualifying at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 28. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 29, followed by the live race broadcast at noon. The area IRRN affiliate is WQTM-AM 740, Maitland, Fla. The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracingleague.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site.

Tickets: Tickets are available for the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway by calling (800) 822-INDY or by visiting tickets.com at http://www.tickets.com . Ticket information also is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.indy200.com .

-IRL/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Al Unser Sr. , Tom Sneva , Emerson Fittipaldi , Roger Penske , Brian Barnhart
Teams Team Penske