Al Unser III longing to race in the Indy 500
By Bruce Martin
PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor
INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) - With the Indianapolis 500 field featuring three Andrettis, it may be time for another Unser to join the field next season.
Al Unser III, the son of two-time winner Al Unser Jr. and grandson of four-time winner Al Unser, was on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway asphalt Thursday as he qualified 12th for Friday’s Indy Pro Series Freedom 100.
“I would definitely love to get out there and race Marco Andretti,” Unser said, referring to the youngest trio of Andrettis, that includes father Michael and his cousin John.
Rookie Ken Losch won the pole with a lap at 188.231 miles per hour followed by Alex Lloyd’s 188.080 mph to form the front row for the 24 cars that compete in the race that is part of Friday’s Carb Day.
It will follow the final one-hour practice session for Sunday’s 91st Indianapolis 500 when the starting field of 33 cars will have one last chance to get their cars ready for the race.
Next year, the 24-year-old Unser hopes to be in that starting field, following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and three-time winner Uncle Bobby.
“Hopefully next year we can do something with Playa del Racing and be out there,” the younger Unser said. “I just love Indy. This place is magical. There’s not another track like it anywhere. There is nothing like Indy. I’m pumped up to be here and we’ll do well on Friday.
Unser competed in some Indy Pro Series races in 2004, making his debut at Kansas Speedway. He competed in four more IPS races in 2005, including last year’s Freedom 100 where he started seventh and finish fourth.
He left to do some road racing but when the series went to a 50-50 split on ovals and road courses to the schedule, Unser came back to run for the team owned by Gary Sallee and Sue Schaffer.
“We’ve started a good relationship with Playa Del Racing and it all depends on sponsorship acquisition,” Unser said. “It’s how this business runs. It all depends on how much money comes in to go racing.”
When the driver was a youngster, he was known as “Mini Al” because his father was “Little Al.” As he got older, he jettisoned that moniker and became “Just Al.”
But in order to differentiate the Unsers, he has taken on the “III” at the end of his name.
He admitted than when he was a kid, he would found it hard to believe that his father would be driving for A.J. Foyt.
Al Unser Jr. will start 25th in this year’s 500 driving car No. 50 in honor of Foyt’s 50th Anniversary in IndyCar racing.
“It’s definitely interesting and I think my grandfather is even more shocked by it,” the younger Unser said. “I’m very happy for my dad. He’s having a lot of fun. He’s looking really good since he started this ‘Out of the Bottle’ campaign (as part of his sobriety effort).
“He’s looking really good when he gets out of the car;how much sweat is coming down his face. But he’s really enjoying it.”
When Unser was a kid, he didn’t hang out with the Andrettis, but preferred to be friends with a female, Tatiana Fittipaldi, the daughter of two-time Indy 500 winner and two-time Formula One champion Emerson Fittipaldi.
Coming to Indy as a kid was something Unser cherished because it provided a gigantic playground.
“School would be ending right about now and we’d come out and start our summer vacation at the Indy 500,” Unser III recalled. “After that we’d head off to Milwaukee, then to Detroit and back down to Michigan and over to Toronto.”
The young Unser is able to get racing advice from his grandfather, who works with the young drivers in the IPS and IndyCar series as a driving coach along with Johnny Rutherford and Rick Mears.
“He works with the young guys coming in and says very important things, but they are real short,” Unser said of Big Al. “You have to figure out what he means. They are kind of Yoda-ish in Star Wars.
“I haven’t gotten a lot of advice from Uncle Bobby but he’s more of the ‘Drive it like you stole it’ type of thing where my grandfather and father liked to figure things out before they slam it into the wall.”
As far as working with his father, young Unser said when his dad won the Indy 500 for the first time in 1992 as favorite moment at Indy.
“That one was so intense,” Unser III said. “I can’t wait to get on the track and win my own Indy 500.”
Spoken like a true Unser.