Raised on success,Indy win fulfills boyhood dream for Unser Jr.

May 26, 1992|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- A day after winning his first Indianapolis 500, Al Unser Jr. still was reveling in the feeling.

"I kind of feel accomplished for my whole life," Unser said. "When I was a kid, I counted up the years to when I'd be old enough to drive Indianapolis and race IndyCars and the 500. When I turned 21 in April [1983] and I was racing in May that was a goal achieved. And, now, I've achieved a dream. It took us 10 years to win it, longer than I wanted, but it's great to be able to win it -- finally."

When he won the 76th annual Indianapolis 500, by .043 of a second over Scott Goodyear in the closest race in history here Sunday, he also became the first second generation driver to find his way to victory lane.

Unser, who joined his father, four-time winner Al Unser, and his uncle, three-time winner Bobby Unser, collected a record $1,244,184 last night at the annual victory dinner. But given Al Unser Jr.'s history, it's clear it isn't the money that really mattered to him.

Two years ago, when he came back to Indy after a gut-wrenching 1989 loss to Emerson Fittipaldi, Unser was beside himself with worry.

He was just 28, a mere babe in terms of men like his father, Big Al, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, and on his way to the PPG IndyCar National Championship. But already he was worried that his career at Indianapolis would be like that of Lloyd Ruby.

Ruby, his face disfigured from fiery crashes, walked with a limp but always carried a dream in his heart: to win the Indianapolis 500. He pursued the dream for 18 years, from 1960 through 1977, but the best finish he ever got was third, in 1967.

Al Unser Jr. doesn't have to worry anymore. Yesterday, with his 9-year-old son on his knee, he enjoyed the activities demanded of a 500 winner and looked forward to the official photo session on the front straight of the 2.5-mile oval.

He also was enjoying the fact that his son was by his side.

"When Dad won in 1987, that was the first time I had come here the day after the race for the picture session," he said. "And when I won Sunday, it was the first time I had ever been in victory lane. Dad's won four, but I was never here for any of them -- because I was usually home, being punished for playing hookey from school. I'm glad Little Al is here with me.

"I think he understands a little of what's going on. I was 8 years old when my Dad won Indy for the first time, and the race car was bigger than life."

Asked if he would like to race against his dad at Indianapolis someday, Al Unser Jr.'s son grinned broadly.

"I think!" he said. "I'd like to race against Dad and Grandpa."

Al Unser Jr. didn't laugh.

"He has a lot of hard work ahead of him if he wants to do this," Al Jr. said. "If he has the dedication, I want to help him do it."

Sunday night Al Unser Sr. shared a bottle of champagne with his son.

"Dad said he'd saved it for a special occasion and this was it," Al Jr. said. "And then he showed me the 500 ring he has that I always wanted. Dad says I can have one now."

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