Thursday, April 19, 2018

"2-Time Indy 500 Winner" Al Unser Jr Born - April 19, 1962

April 19, 1962
Al Unser Jr
Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA.
Nicknamed "Little Al", "Al Junior" or simply "Junior" he is a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner. He is the son of Al Unser and the nephew of Bobby Unser, both Indianapolis 500 winners themselves. By the age of 11, Al Junior was racing sprint cars. After high school, he was already in the World of Outlaws series of sprint car racing. He soon moved into road racing, winning the Super Vee title in 1981 and the Can-Am title in 1982.

In 1982, Unser made his debut on the CART circuit. A year later, he competed in his first Indianapolis 500, finishing tenth. Unser continued racing on the CART circuit, becoming one of the series' rising stars. He finished second in the CART championship point standings in 1985, losing to his father by just one point. He began competing in the IROC championship in 1986, winning that championship with two victories in four races. At the age of 24, Unser was the youngest IROC champion ever. Unser won the 1988 and 1986 IROC championships. Unser won the 24 Hours of Daytona, also at age 24 for the first time in 1986 and again in 1987.

Unser Jr. continued to improve on the CART circuit, finishing fourth in the points standings in 1986, third in 1987, second in 1988 and finally winning the series for the first time in 1990. In 1989, Unser Jr. was on the verge of winning his first Indianapolis 500, but while battling with Emerson Fittipaldi for the lead, the two touched wheels and Unser spun out, hitting the wall and ending his chances. This race is remembered for a remarkable show of sportsmanship, as Little Al climbed out of his wrecked racecar and gave Fittipaldi the "thumbs up" as he drove by Unser Jr. under caution. Unser would have his day at Indy in 1992, however, defeating Scott Goodyear by 0.043 of a second, the closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history. During the off-season he drove in the 1993 Daytona 500 for Hendrick Motorsports finishing 36th in what would be his only NASCAR start. He ran well in the race, running with the lead pack all day, until a late race crash with Kyle Petty and Bobby Hillin Jr.

In 1994, Unser again won at Indy, this time with Penske Racing. His teammates were Emerson Fittipaldi, the man whom he battled with five years before, and Paul Tracy. Unser Jr. turned in a dominant season-long performance, winning eight of 16 races on his way to his second CART championship, as well as being named ABC's Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year that year.

 In 1995 Unser, along with teammate Emerson Fittipaldi, failed to qualify at Indianapolis, and he would later point to this as the trigger event for his descent into alcoholism and the breakup of his marriage. He would finish second to Jacques Villeneuve in CART championship points in 1995, but after finishing fourth in 1996, 13th in 1997, 11th in 1998 and 21st in 1999. Little Al's decline in performance coincided with the Penske team's struggles with the Penske chassis and his teammates suffered similar results during this time. Team Penske began abandoning the maligned in-house Penske chassis for customer Lola chassis during the 1999 season. Unser Jr. would eventually leave CART to join the budding Indy Racing League for the 2000 campaign. Unser Jr. won a total of 31 races during his 17 seasons in CART. His career win total including IRL stands at 34, which is currently the sixth-most all time in American open wheel racing, as of 2013. As a two-time Indy 500 and two-time overall points champion, Unser Jr. enjoyed a decorated career as one of the most dynamic and successful drivers in American auto racing.

On May 18, 2007, Unser spoke publicly for the first time about his battle with alcoholism when he joined forces with LIVE outside the Bottle, a national educational campaign to help the public understand the need for addressing and treating alcoholism.

During the race weekend of the 2009 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Little Al confirmed that his IndyCar career was in fact over. During the weekend, he returned to the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race that he won in 1985, and scored his second in the event and his eighth Long Beach victory overall. 

In 2010, Unser started the Race Clinic for Paralysis charity. Unser is on the board of Baltimore Racing Development and helped announce plans for the 2011 Baltimore Grand Prix on Monday, August 17, 2009. Unser was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2009.

On September 29, 2011, Unser was arrested in Albuquerque, New Mexico on charges of reckless driving and aggravated driving while intoxicated. Charges stemmed from an incident where Unser reportedly drag raced his Chevrolet Suburban SUV at speeds of over 100 mph. He was placed on indefinite suspension from his role with IndyCar.

In 2013, Unser entered a sportscar race at Thunderhill Raceway Park, the legendary 25 Hours of Thunderhill, racing with his son Al III as teammates.

In 2014, once again at Long Beach, he came out of retirement to again participate in the Pro/Celebrity race, while finishing fifth, he was 6.115 seconds behind winner Brett Davern and four other celebrities, he was handicapped by a 30-second disadvantage assessed to professionals. As the top-finishing professional, it was his ninth Long Beach victory overall, extending the "King of the Beach" nickname. Later that year, Unser raced again at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, participating in the Indy Legends Charity Pro/Am race, during the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association's Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational event. This two-driver race included an Indianapolis 500 veteran in each car. Unser won the race, along with Peter Klutt, driving Klutt's 1969 Chevrolet Corvette. In so doing, Unser became the second driver to win on both the oval and road course at the Speedway.

In 2015, Unser participated in several Goodguys AutoCross competitions and also the Sports Car Club of America Solo National Championship, placing second in his class in the latter.

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