I was six that day he beat Scott Goodyear to the finish line in Indianapolis. I still remember jumping up and down in exuberance not only because of that drag race but also because Michael Andretti's fuel pump broke with 12 laps to go.
Why I chose Unser Jr. over Andretti or Goodyear that day is something I still don't understand, but from then on he became the favorite driver of my grade school years.
When the news broke Thursday that Unser Jr. had been arrested for DWI in New Mexico, I sighed. I was saddened, but, sadly, not surprised, even though he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal earlier this month that he wasn't drinking.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Jennifer Brown confirmed that Unser, 49, was arrested around 3 a.m. just outside of Albuquerque, where he lives. Brown said Unser was drag racing another car in his Suburban and was going around 101 mph before sheriff's deputies caught up to him.
He was charged with reckless driving and aggravated driving while intoxicated.
According to a sheriff's report, Unser smelled of alcohol and was slurring his speech. Sheriff's deputies said his blood-alcohol content was twice the legal limit of 0.08.
Unser Jr.'s life struggles became public after his driving career -- a career that included over 30 wins and an induction into the Motorsports Hall of Fame -- was on its downward arc. After being arrested for an alcohol-related fight with his girlfriend in 2002 on the side of an Indianapolis highway, Unser Jr. talked openly of his journey towards sobriety and competed in the 2006 Indianapolis 500.
In 2007, he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and a hit and run. He pled no contest to those charges. After subsequent treatment and community service, Unser Jr. returned to the IndyCar Series as a driver mentor and eventually moved into his current capacity in race control, a position he's now suspended indefinitely from because of Thursday's arrest.
Given his recent comments, it is hard to not wonder how real the talk after his last two arrests was. But I'm still rooting for him, and I hope he can get a win in something much bigger than either of those 500s.