Bombardier 500 Winner's Press Conference Transcript Saturday, June 7, 2003, Texas Motor Speedway Al Unser Jr. MODERATOR: We've got the winner of the Bombardier 500, Al Unser Jr. Al, one year ago tonight you were in the first round of...
Winner's Press Conference Transcript
Saturday, June 7, 2003, Texas Motor Speedway
Al Unser Jr.
MODERATOR: We've got the winner of the Bombardier 500, Al Unser Jr. Al, one year ago tonight you were in the first round of interviews instead of the second round. Jeff Ward just nipped you. How sweet does that make this victory for you?
AL UNSER JR.: Any victory is very, very sweet. What can I say? We've been trying very hard at all the IRL races the last couple of years. Texas is once of the racetracks that we came up inches short of a victory. Kelley Racing, over the wintertime, really stepped up to the plate. Tom Kelley made the commitment to raise the bar or whatever by hiring Steve (Newey), hiring quite a bunch of different guys and really raising the level of the team and its performance and the team answer. This is the result of it. Scott Sharp went in, in Japan. Now I've got a victory, finally. And it was just -- it's because of the commitment that Tom has made and all of Kelley Racing. Signing with Toyota was really the biggest gain that we absolutely have done between last year and this year. You can sure see it going down the backstretch at the end of the race.
Q: Two-hundred twenty-one laps here before and just hadn't got it. The first race here says it's the most fun you ever had in an open-wheel car. Does it continue to be fun when you come to Texas?
UNSER: Definitely. I was introduced to the Texas Motor Speedway in 2000. It was a great place. It still is a great place. It took us four years to finally win here, but it's sure special.
Q: Is it a lot of fun still now?
UNSER: I love it. I love driving the open-wheel cars. Running 220 miles an hour. Running wheel to wheel with the guys out there that are the best drivers in the world and with the best teams and the best backing. All of that. This event is just as important as all the others behind me, maybe even a little bit more important for what we've been through in the last few years personally.
Q: Take us through the last lap, what you were thinking, strategy-wise and what you thought when Tony (Kanaan) pulled up alongside of you?
UNSER: Just that it was going to be tough. Worked hard and done that final pit stop, and we got out and had the lead that we did. It really paid off to follow Scheckter and save my fuel because I went further than anybody did out there. We had the momentum. We wound it up. It was time to go. It was right then. And that's what we did and came in on that pit stop, hustled it in, hustled it out. We put enough gas in there. And then were clicking off the laps, and then the yellow came out, and I thought, 'Oh, no, I'm going to lose this thing by inches again if I can even be part of the two up there because, you know how fast things change here at Texas.' And I knew that. On that first restart, Tony got up beside me and then he actually got in front of me, and I think he led one lap there. I don't know if he was actually in front of me from start to finish, but he never did absolutely get totally in front of me where he could pull over. We got the run right back by him, and we were able to pull it. And then I started thinking, 'Wow, maybe I do have the car to outrun these guys with.' And then that final restart, we did whatever we could just to stand on the gas and do our upshifts the right way. He got a run on me going into (Turn) 1 and going through (Turns) 1 and 2. He pulled out the side of me on the backstretch. The only reason why he was able to do that is because he got the run on my draft. Once we got out on the backstretch, it was wheel to wheel. It was at that point right now it was not Al versus Tony but Toyota versus Honda. They pulled. I was just so happy I had the Toyota power.
MODERATOR: Let's go ahead and open up some questions. Any questions both from the press box and down? Please use the microphones.
Q: Al, you sort of touched on what I wanted to ask you. In light of everything you've been through in the last 10 months, how satisfying, what is the satisfaction level this victory brings you?
UNSER: Whenever you win, it's a great feeling. There's so much hard work and so much dedication that goes to any victory. When I had my down times last summer, it was Tom Kelley and Corteco and Brian that said that they'd stand behind me and support me and help me through my time. And then when we came back racing, it was my friends, my family, and most of all my girlfriend, Gina, who supported me from -- most of the support from that time forward. And without those people it would have been virtually impossible to get through it. There was a lot of late-night phone calls to my dad and to my sister and to friends. They helped me. They helped me pull through all this stuff. All that hard work has paid off, and it's going to continue to pay off. It's going to be -- we're just starting here on a good thing. So I'm really proud.
Q: Through all your troubles, was there ever a time when you seriously considered giving up? Was there any pressure on you to give up at all, or was it always through that problem that you intended to keep racing?
UNSER: Oh, no. I love racing. There's never been a time that I ever thought about doing anything else but drive race cars. And really it was just to get through just so -- public opinion. That's where my court was. It was to get through that because during that time on July 9 I let not only myself down but my family down, but a lot of children in America down and so on. So I just want today do everything I could to try to come out of that and show that if you persevere, if you put hard work to it, if you're determined, you can get things done and dreams can come true.
Q: Michael Andretti, very much a contemporary of yours. He chose to retire this year and go on to team ownership. You said you have no thoughts of that. How long do you view yourself as a viable race driver?
UNSER: As long as I keep doing this out here, then I'm going to keep doing it. I love racing. I love getting out, driving these single-seat, open-wheel cars at 220 miles an hour. I love doing it. I can't think of doing anything else. As long as I'm enjoying what I'm doing, and as long as I'm competitive, then I'm going to keep doing it because it's just too much dang fun out there.
Q: Second in the point standings, so you're very much a contender. Do you believe you've got a shot at it? And if you contend for the championship, that would be one of the greatest comebacks of all time, wouldn't it?
UNSER: I don't know. There's been a lot of comebacks, great comebacks. I don't know about all time. Sure, we're a contender in this championship. The season ain't even half over yet. If we're in P 2, there's a long way to go. So I'm just real proud of my guys. They're the ones that deserve this victory, and Toyota Motors deserves this victory.
Q: Earlier they talked about Brian Barnhart, saying if you're going to win this race, you've got to win it on the outside. Last year the outside did win this race, and he (Ward) got by you. What was your thought as you went through pulling that Toyota motor thinking about the outside, was the inside primarily a concern?
UNSER: I was still worried about it. Even though I pulled it down the backstretch and went into (Turn) 3, where they had a seam, I've lost this race because they came out of Turn 4 and were able to get back by me again. So, really, when I took a breath, it was right in the middle of 3 and 4. I saw that Tony sucked in behind me. And right then I knew that we had it. As long as we didn't miss, we had it. It was the power that pulled me through. That was all there was to it.
Q: Al, Tony kept saying that you are the cleanest guy to race against; that he had no worries out there with you. Tell me what do you think of Tony Kanaan as somebody to race against?
UNSER: I've raced against Tony for quite some time. There's been the gap there that I was over at IRL, and he was still racing CART. But I raced Tony in CART. He's a great race car driver. He's one of the world's best single-seat, open-wheel drivers, and it's an honor to run with him. He seems to be a loving guy and all that kind of stuff and genuinely cares about you off the racetrack and on the racetrack. And that's very important to drivers that are running wheel to wheel.
Q: Al, I want to congratulate you on your victory tonight and glad to finally see, you carry the flag home tonight. We're going to be joining some of the Speedway Club members and help you celebrate the victory here tonight.
UNSER: Thanks everybody for being here. It's important to the IRL. We really appreciate it.