INDIANAPOLIS -- Al Unser Jr. was beaten. He knew it Thursday afternoon. His new Galmer chassis with the Chevy-A engine was pushing into the walls coming out of the corners, and his speeds were 10 mph off the pace.
An afternoon of meetings with chassis designer Alan Mertens on Thursday evening didn't make him feel much better. On Friday, he ducked a news conference, saying he had an upset stomach.
"Saturday afternoon, we all gathered in my hotel room and talked about it," said Unser. "Rick [Galles, car owner] said he really wanted to win, and I said, 'We'll all do the best we can, Boss, but it ain't looking too good.' "
So, Al Unser Jr. started on the outside of Row 4 and did the best he could yesterday. He won the 76th Indianapolis 500 in the closest battle to the finish line this old Brickyard ever has seen.
Unser, with Scott Goodyear demanding every bit of power his car had to give, crossed the finish line .043 of a second ahead of Goodyear's Lola, which had started last in the 33-car field.
While 21 cars spun (including pole sitter Roberto Guerrero on the parade lap),crashed, lost power or blew engines around him, Unser drove straight and true to the first 500 victory of his 10-year career.
At 30, he is the third Unser to reach victory lane, joining his father, four-time winner Al Sr., and his uncle, three-time winner Bobby Unser.
And it was nothing short of a family affair when it was over. While commentator Bobby Unser spoke on ABC, Unser Sr. joined his son and his grandson, "Mini Al," for the post-race interview.
"You're always happy when you win the Indianapolis 500," said Unser Sr. "Coming back this year, someone told me I was going to win again -- and I have. My son won . . . "
Unser Sr.'s voice broke as he choked back his emotions.
"To have something I love as much as I love this place and this race and then to have your son win -- it's the greatest feeling I've ever experienced. If I had won for the fifth time, it wouldn't have been as special as this. This is a dream come true."
Unser Jr. averaged 134 mph over the 500 miles, the slowest speed since 1958, when Jimmy Bryan won at 133.791.
Amazing numbers, considering this 500 field was the fastest by more than 5 mph. However, cold weather caused tire problems that bothered almost everyone but Unser Jr.
"In truth," he said, "the cold weather helped my car work better.
"I knew after the 1989 race that, for me to win here, I'd have to win it double good," said Unser Jr., referring to his last-lap battle with Emerson Fittipaldi. Fittipaldi had won that battle when the two cars touched going into the fourth turn and Unser spun out.
"I knew it wasn't going to be like Dad's first win here, when he was a lap up on everybody," said Unser Jr. "I figured, after 1989, I wasn't going to get it easy."
For a long while, it appeared another second-generation driver would win.
Michael Andretti, in a Lola-Ford Cosworth, outclassed the entire field. He started sixth, but a daring move just past the start-finish line on the first lap propelled him into first place in the first turn. And that's where Andretti basically stayed until, with 11 laps to go, his car simply stopped while running down the backstretch and came to a stop in Turn 3.
"I just can't believe it," Andretti said. "This place is just so cruel. Everything was so perfect. It was to a point where I could have almost walked it in. And it just shut off. It looks like it was either a fuel pump or the fuel pump drive. We're not sure yet. . . . It's hard to take. I just want to change and get to the hospital."
Andretti's father, Mario, and brother, Jeff, were taken to Methodist Hospital after crashes yesterday. Both were to undergo foot and ankle surgery last night.
When Michael Andretti's car stalled, Unser Jr. suddenly found himself running first.
"I got excited and let myself think about winning," said Unser Jr. "But I glanced in my mirror, and Scott was filling it up.
"I couldn't take my mind off him [Goodyear]," he said. "He was right under my exhaust. I made my car as wide as I could, but there was so much racing room out there, there was nothing to do but just head straight and hard for the finish."
The finish among drivers still racing at the end of the Indy 500:
1. Al Unser Jr. 7. Raul Boesel
2. Scott Goodyear 8. John Andretti
3. Al Unser Sr. 9. John Paul Jr.
4. Danny Sullivan 10. A.J. Foyt
5. Bobby Rahal 11. Lyn St. James
6. Eddie Cheever 12. Dominic Dobson
Order of finish
The order of finish of the Indianapolis 500, listing unofficial finishing position, starting position, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (r-rookie; standings are unofficial until posted by U.S. Auto Club at 8 a.m. today):
F .. .. .. S Driver .. .. .. .. Chassis-engine .. .. .. .. Laps
1 .. .. .. 12 Al Unser Jr. .. Galmer-Chevy A .. .. .. .. ..200
2 .. .. .. 33 Scott Goodyear .. Lola-Chevy A .. .. .. .. ..200
3 .. .. .. 22 Al Unser Sr. .. ..Lola-Buick .. .. .. .. .. .200
4 .. .. .. .8 Danny Sullivan .. Galmer-Chevy A .. .. .. .. 199