Thursday, September 29, 2011

Little Al, Little Al (Shaking Head in Dismay)

As the Indy Star reported today, Al Unser Jr. was picked up early this morning on DUI and reckless driving charges after allegedly street racing his Suburban at upwards of 100 mph. It's just another issue in a string of post-retirement problems for Little Al, who seemed to have figured things out after facing similar charges several years ago.

IndyCar has responded to the charges by suspending Unser, who had been serving the series as part of Race Control, indefinitely as the charges are being investigated. No doubt this was a painful decision on the part of the series, but it was the necessary one as someone facing possible jail time as a repeat offender cannot be among the public faces of IndyCar. Hopefully, however, they are giving him the help he needs behind the scenes, which I don't doubt is happening.

It's just so sad. I've been a fan of his since he entered IndyCar racing, and I feel like at his peak there wasn't a finer all-around driver in the world. He could go fast in anything, and his duel with Emerson Fittipaldi in the 1989 Indy 500 might still be one of the most thrilling moments I've ever experienced as a race fan.

Who knew when this photo was taken Al was at the absolute peak of his career
Five years later, he won his second 500 and championship, and at age 32 seemed like he was on his way to becoming one of the all-time greats. But then so many things began going wrong -- like missing the 1995 race, the CART/IRL split and a five-year winless streak -- and it makes you wonder if those things contributed to some of the things that have happened over the years.

When I see that Little Al has again fallen on hard times, it is just a representation of what might have been, and how no matter how much desire, ability and talent you have, if you have enough personal demons they will bring you down and leave a ton of collateral damage behind you. Unfortunately some people leave a lot in their wake, and Al seems to be one of those people.

More than anything, I'm sympathetic. As the son of a man that won a daily battle against alcoholism every day of the last 28 years of his life (something I am proud of him for even all these years later), I know how hard it is to fight back against something that never, ever relents. You put your guard down, even for a minute, and it jumps you from behind and doesn't let go.

It sounds like Al had been winning that battle for the last couple of years, and between his personal life and his work with IndyCar it looked like he was a pretty happy person. Let's hope that he can get himself back in order and continue on the path of finding what he is looking for and to continue providing a positive contribution to the IndyCar series.

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