Three years at Shierson Racing, 1985-’87,
yielded a (very close) second, a fourth and
a third in the championship standings.
With five laps to go, there’s one car
between Dad and I – Roberto Moreno,
driving for Rick Galles who first gave me
my full-time IndyCar ride. Three laps to
go, Dad passes Moreno – and there’s
nothing I can do about it.
BH That’s just amazing drama and a lot of
mixed emotions for you.
AU Yeah, I was happy for Dad, but sad for
my team and myself. And Dad was upset,
too. On the slow-down lap, he drew up
next to me and put his hands in the air,
shrugging, and I knew exactly what he
was thinking. He’d done the job he’s paid
to do, for the sake of Roger Penske and
his sponsors, and I’d done the same. All I
could do was the same gesture back.
BH You stuck with Shierson for a couple
more years, then went back to Galles,
came second in the championship again
in ’88, and then it was another near miss
that made bigger headlines than you
could have imagined.
Of course, I’m talking about that 1989
Indy 500. Those final moments when you
and Emerson Fittipaldi got together in
the closing laps and you hit the wall get
played over and over each year at Indy.
But the image that sticks in my head was
you emerging from the wreck, going
trackside and giving Emmo the thumbs-up next time by. Was that really a “Good
job!” thumbs-up or a sarcastic one?
AU That was a “Good job” thumbs-up!
BH Seriously?! Al, you’re a better man
than I am. It showed tremendous
sportsmanship. I know how important
Indy is to you, and that would have been
your first win there…
AU Truly, the ’89 Indy 500 was a defining
point in my career, and that includes
everything in the entire Month of May
that year. Goodyear had brought a hard
tire and a soft tire, and no one could get
the soft tire to live for a full stint: even on
half tanks, they’d go o; within 10 laps. So
34 AUGUST 2011 RACER.com
The third of six wins at Long Beach and
the first of six wins in ’90 that would lead
to Junior’s first IndyCar championship.
Al Unser Sr. was a guiding light to his on, never more than in Little Al’s rookie IndyCar season of 1983.
Alan Mertens, my engineer, myself and
the team felt that if we worked hard on
trying to get that soft tire to work, we
could have an advantage on the field.
That’s what we worked on for the whole
month, and in the last couple days of
practice, we achieved it and committed
to it for the entire race.
I didn’t qualify too well – eighth – but
then I never really did qualify all that well!
If you’re in the first three rows of any race,
you’ve got a shot at winning it. Right from
the get-go, my dad taught me that you’re
not there to qualify, you’re there to race,
and it’s not about leading the first lap, it’s
about leading the last. So I’d spend a lot
of practice sessions running on half-full
tanks and working on race setups.
BH I remember when I was racing, if we
saw you in the first two rows, we knew
the rest of us were in big trouble! Bobby
Rahal said that in our last RACER2RACER,
too. And he also said that winning Indy
in 1986 was a positive turning point for
him, and a negative one for the guy he
beat that day, Kevin Cogan. Now you,
too, have described the ’89 race, despite
it being a hard lesson for you, as a
defining point. Let’s talk about that.
AU Well for one thing, that 1989 race, I