Unser Jr. driving through famous father barrier

October 05, 1990|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Evening Sun Staff

When Al Unser Jr. turns on the radio and hears his favorite country and western artist, Hank Williams Jr., singing about "family tradition," the 28-year-old can relate.

"He has been in the same boat I'm in," said the son of Al Unser, a three-time Indy-car national champion and a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. "Being the son of a famous father, I know how hard it is to break through the barrier."

In most famous father cases, a son only has to worry about emulating his dad. But in Little Al's case, the family heritage is even greater. His uncle Bobby is also a three-time Indy 500 winner and a two-time national champ.

"We, and when I say 'We,' I mean myself and Michael Andretti, people who are sons of the famous, we find ourselves compared a lot. When we come up lacking in anything, it is a big minus. On the other hand, if we show we're better, it's a big plus. I'd say the lows are lower and the highs are greater."

This weekend, Little Al has a very real shot at one of his greatest highs.

Sunday, in the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix at Pennsylvania International Raceway in Nazareth, he can win his first national championship in the PPG Championship Auto Racing Teams series. Strange as it may seem, the guy he is trying to beat out for this title is Michael Andretti, the son of former national champion, Indy 500, Daytona 500 and world champion driver Mario.

Little Al has a 37-point lead over Michael going into this, the next to last race of the season. All Little Al has to do is finish sixth or better in his Galles-Kraco Lola 90 Chevrolet. If he does, it won't matter what Michael Andretti does.

The two famous sons will see a lot of each other this weekend. Besides Sunday's race, they will start side-by-side in the Marlboro Challenge, an all-star race for Cart winners and pole-sitters. It is a 100-mile, all-out -- and to the winner goes a check for $250,000. If Little Al wins, he'll also get a $150,000 bonus for being the defending champion.

The Challenge will help distract him from the importance of Sunday's race, but only a little.

"It's hard, not knowing if I'm going to win this national title," said Little Al, who has had only two bad performances all season, including a pit fire in Cleveland that seriously burned two of his crew men. "I've dreamed about this all my life. And now I think about it all the time. At night. In the morning. All day. The emotion has been a roller coaster with real high highs and real low lows. But all I can do is go out every race and do the best I can. Dad put that in me. As long as I feel I've done my best, I feel pretty good."

And as far as always being known as Little Al, Alfred Unser Jr. laughs.

"I think it's great," he said. "This way I'll always be young."

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