Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference July 13, 2004 Al Unser MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody, to the Indy Racing League's teleconference. Today's teleconference features Al Unser from the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, and later we'll have ...
Indy Racing League
July 13, 2004
MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody, to the Indy Racing League's teleconference. Today's teleconference features Al Unser from the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, and later we'll have owner/driver Adrian Fernandez from the IndyCar® Series.
Al, thanks for joining us today.
AL UNSER: Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: You've been in the news quite a bit lately. The timing of you joining the Menards Infiniti Pro Series coincided with the retirement of your father. Have things started to return to normal yet for you?
AL UNSER: Yeah, slightly. I mean, we got a bunch of hype, so to speak, on the Pro Series just because my dad was retiring, and we were coming into it. I guess I'm the only Unser left in open-wheel racing. It did put a lot of focus on me, focused a bunch of attention to me. We're happy for that. But, yeah, it's starting to return to normal, but it's still only the second race, so there's still a bunch of hype going around.
Q: There's been some talk about having that Unser pressure, as you mentioned, the only Unser left in open-wheel racing. Your father talked a little bit about it during his retirement press conference. He said he's sure you feel some of the pressure, as well.
What is the pressure you feel? Have you put some expectations on yourself looking far ahead to qualifying and winning Indianapolis even?
AL UNSER: No. You can't. I do feel the pressure, so I can't take it and ask myself to live up to the pressure, so to speak. I don't ask for any expectations. The only expectations I ask from myself is to bring the car home at the end of the day, make sure it rolls back on the trailer. With that, I think I take a little bit of the pressure off of myself. I don't pay attention to it. Pressure is just kind of how you take it. If you want to take it, "I have to do this because of my family," this and that, it's just not going to work, you're not going to have any fun. I just go out there, go, "OK, let's have some fun, go race with these boys." Same thing I did in Kansas, and we had a good result.
Q: You first got into the Menards Infiniti Pro Series car in early June in a private test with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. How did that whole opportunity come about?
AL UNSER: Basically, I'm trying to drive whatever I can that's got open wheels on it. I was in the Atlantics (Toyota Atlantic series), and we had an opportunity to go test with Sam Schmidt. He gave us a call. I'm not abiding by any boundaries, so to speak. I wanted to dabble in both series this year. We went out there and did the rookie test so we could do a race later in the year. Then Keith Duesenberg came aboard. We started testing right away after that June test and got me in the race real quick in Kansas.
Q: That, for your debut race, was a difficult weekend. We had a lot of rain that washed out almost all of the practice time. How did you go about, once you were at the track, really preparing for that first race with the rain and things like that that came into play?
AL UNSER: Boy, I have to thank Keith Duesenberg and the Western Union Speed Team for that. As soon as we had that first practice session, I had a good car. They put a great setup underneath me. We were able to go out there and run some decent practice times.
They got us a little bit on qualifying because the practice ended up being qualifying. A bunch of them got into a draft and passed me, as far as position-wise. But, you know, for the race, I knew we had a good car. We got out there in warmup. During warmup, all I really wanted to do was experience drafting in the car. I tried to follow whoever I could. Even if I was faster than that person and could get around them, I was just trying to stay behind him and feel how the car reacted in the other car's air. Once we felt that, we made some other changes to the car. I had a great race car for the race.
Q: What role did your dad play in preparing before the race? What was your communication with him like before the race?
AL UNSER: You know, before the race, it's just all the same thing. We've got to bring the car home at the end of the day. That's really the most important aspect. We don't want to risk damaging equipment, because then you finish in the back of the field. If you could go ahead and let the person go, let the risk subside for a few (laps), then you can go ahead and get back after it, and you're going to have a better finishing position than you would if you would have tried to hold that risk and maybe stuck a tire to somebody and ended up in the wall. (My dad's) attitude, what he was saying to me at the beginning of the race is basically just that. I had a lot of other help there with my grandfather. I know a lot of the whole scene with Johnny Rutherford, a bunch of the other people there, just basically the same thing. You've just got to finish the race. They all knew I could race these guys. We just needed to finish, and that was the most important part.
Q: Obviously, you did finish. You brought it home in third place in your debut. I know, too, your father and grandfather being at the track, they were able to watch you throughout the race. Have you had a chance to sit down since the race and analyze it and go through it with either one of them and get some more advice from them based on the result?
AL UNSER: Yeah, I did a little bit after the race with both my father and my grandfather. They didn't give me much more help because we did a pretty good job. But the only thing my dad suggested to me, because I was telling him that I couldn't close up on Paul Dana, I was able to close up on him once, then he shut the door on me, and I wasn't really able to do it again because of his air. My dad just told me that I needed to get closer. If you can get closer, the way the air comes off the car, it is not as disturbed right after the car than it is a car length after the car or two car lengths after the car. We're trying to talk about that stuff. My grandpa told me I just needed to work on my starts and restarts because we did mess those up. But I was really just getting used to the drivers that are in the series, seeing what they're going to do, seeing how the car reacts to jumping on the throttle. I wasn't sure if I jumped on it right away if it was going to spin the tires at whatever speed we were doing. I think we were starting the restarts in third gear. I wasn't sure how everything was going to react. I had to adapt to it. By our second restart, I got that one and made a couple positions up on that restart.
Q: Nashville is a different surface with the concrete vs. the asphalt. Does any of that strategy, what you've learned at Kansas, does any of that change going to the different surface at Nashville?
AL UNSER: Of course. I mean, your strategy's going to change from racetrack to racetrack, even if they're the same shape and the same surface. But here, we've got a slightly different shape, a little bit shorter of a track than Kansas. Definitely, it's a way different surface. We'll have to find out in practice, and so forth, how it's going to react there. I did some testing, but I didn't really do testing as far as how is it going to react to restarting or at the start of the race. The testing I did there was setting up the car. We've got a good setup. I'm going into this weekend with some good high hopes. We had a good finish in Kansas, did really well in testing, so I'm ready to get after it again.
Q: The competitive spirit within the Unser family, both on and off the track, and when I say "off the track," I'm even talking about the things like the annual snowmobile race, does that prepare a young guy like you for the battles of professional racing?
AL UNSER: I believe so. I've been doing that sort of battle since I can remember. Ever since I've grown up, we've been on a snowmobile. Every winter, we go up there and snowmobile ride. I think it prepares you for the mental aspect of having a competitor and trying to beat that person. I agree with you. I think it does prepare you very well.
Q: When you made the decision to go racing professionally, what kind of conversation did you, your dad and your grandfather have?
AL UNSER: Well, you know, it was kind of, "Are you sure? It's hard work." What my dad used to tell me was if it was easy, everybody would be doing it, and obviously, that's not the case for the population, for how many race-car drivers there are. It was really just a bunch of my decision, if I really wanted to do it. Then the second question was where to place me. We started at a racing school.
Q: When you watched your dad, your granddad and your uncle throughout their careers, was there something that you saw in what they did that you said, "I'll do what they did, that will make me better, but I won't do what they did because that will make me better?"
AL UNSER: I don't know. I'm not really understanding the question.
Q: Did you sit down and look at the pros and cons of what they did, in other words, some of their strengths and some of the things you said, "Maybe that's the weakness that I can enhance on"?
AL UNSER: Yes, yes, of course. Now I get what you're saying. I definitely did. Looking at my grandpa's races at the Indy 500, he is a very smart man, and he knows that the race doesn't matter until that last lap. See who's first at the end of the line. You could tell some of his races, a couple of his wins, especially the one in like '87, is just off strategy. He wasn't necessarily the fastest or led all the laps, but he led that last lap, which is the most important. Looking at some of the negative aspects, I have learned a few things of what not to get myself into, trying to avoid, staying out of trouble, so forth.
Q: On and off the track?
AL UNSER: Exactly.
Q: Are you planning on staying with the Menards Infiniti Pro Series through the season or are you going to look at other things, as well, maybe do another Atlantic race? I know your mom was hoping you would do more road racing. What are your plans with regard to that?
AL UNSER: Well, right now we're in contract negotiations with Keith Duesenberg, the Western Union Speed Team. We're looking to see if we're going to do a couple more, try to continue through the rest of the season. Either/or, if we do a couple more or do the rest of the season, I still want to jump into a Toyota Atlantic car, go do some more road racing because I believe the IRL and the Menards Infiniti Pro Series is going to go road racing next year. That's definitely an aspect that I kind of have to prepare for.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Al, for taking time to join us today.
AL UNSER: No worries.
MODERATOR: We wish you best of luck in Nashville.
AL UNSER: Thank you. Thanks everybody for calling.