INDIANAPOLIS – The Unser family – Indianapolis 500 royalty with nine wins among them – relishes every opportunity to take a humorous jab at one another. Even when one isn’t in the room.
That was the case Thursday morning at the welcome breakfast to open the 31st annual Performance Racing Industry (PRI) trade show at the Indiana Convention Center. Four-time Indy 500 champion Al Unser and son Al Unser Jr., a two-time Indy victor, were the featured guests in a conversation hosted by motorsports personality Dave Despain.
A capacity crowd enjoyed the event, with topics ranging from winning the Pikes Peak Hill Climb to Mom Unser’s chili, even to Al Jr. being “grounded from school” while his dad won the 1978 Indianapolis 500.
But there was no way they would leave out “Uncle Bobby,” Al Sr.’s older brother who captured “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” three times but was unable to attend. Perhaps the most light-hearted moments of the breakfast were jokes at the expense of 84-year-old Bobby.
“That’s what Dad lives for these days,” said Unser Jr. now an executive consultant for Harding Steinbrenner Racing and driver coach to Colton Herta and Patricio O’Ward, who will be rookies in 2019 IndyCar Series competition.
“It would’ve been better if he was here, but he’s not able to so, you know, it’s good, you’ve got to joke about things,” said Unser Sr., 79.
Despain highlighted the Big Al’s four Indianapolis 500 victories (1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987) and the Little Al’s first win in 1992. The father fondly recalled his 1987 win with a little assistance from his son.
“That was one of those deals where I was too old and they needed to replace me,” Unser Sr. said. “It’s a storybook deal and to end up winning the race even surprised me!”
“You know, I was in that race,” Unser Jr., 56, chimed in. “What happened during that race to me was a first. I’m running around there and Dad’s hauling it, about the third time that he lapped me, he gave me a wave!”
The crowd erupted in laughter at that comment.
Despain spared no expense joking about himself growing older before both Unsers came on stage, but the breakfast conversation reminded him about one of his favorite parts of how he made his living.
“It's great fun, I mean, the best part of my career has always been talking to racers,” said Despain. “People think about the race calls and the color analysis and the opinion stuff that I used to do on ‘Wind Tunnel,’ but for me, the biggest thrill has always been talking to the heroes.”
Both Unsers appreciated now-retired Despain for the time spent reminiscing about Indianapolis and all the motorsports heroes that inspired them.
“Dave does a good job for racing,” Unser Sr. said. “He always has and it’s just a pleasure being there with my son and coming to a function like this is just unbelievable.”
Unser Jr. had a bit of an extra joy with his father being at the breakfast.
“I love talking about racing and that’s what we were talking about,” he said. “They brought (out) pretty much our whole career. I loved talking about Dad and I love to brag on Dad, so it was fun. We had a great time.”