Al Unser Jr. Hopes to Inspire With New Biography, 'A Checkered Past'

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Photo credit: Albert L. Ortega - Getty Images
Photo credit: Albert L. Ortega - Getty Images

Al Unser Jr. has a legendary racing name and a legendary record on the race track. Some even refer to Unser as "Mr. Two Time" in reference to his two Indianapolis 500 wins, two IndyCar championships, two IROC championships and pair of wins at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Little Al also has a not-to-glorious record off the the racetrack, no thanks to a long battle with alcohol and substance abuse issues. Multiple arrests for driving while impaired and run-ins with police—one such arrest from as recently as 2019—are well documented. Unser tackles his demons in a soon-to-be-released biography entitled, Al Unser Jr A Checkered Past.

And, not unlike the path he took to overcoming his own substance abuse problems, Unser found that he couldn't do a book on his own, either.

"During the COVID shutdown of the world, I decided it was time to write a book," Unser said in a recent Zoom interview to promote the book. "I went to a school, an online school, to be an author. I got into it, and I realized as I got into it, how difficult it actually is. Even though I had the material and I could write it, being an author of a book ... I'm a race car driver. That's what I do. That's what I've done my entire life.

"Becoming an author was so outside of my box that once I got into it and the story was so important about my personal life, I had to have help. I had to have professional help."

A few phone calls later and Unser teamed with Octane Press and author Jade Gurss, who has penned racing books on subjects including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and late John Andretti. Gurss previously worked with Unser on another book, entitled The Beast, which documented the behind-the-scenes story of the 1994 Indianapolis 500 and the dominating once-in-a-lifetime engine program that turned the 500 into a rout for Unser and team owner Roger Penske.

"What's different about this book versus most racing books is that, yes, there are brilliant racer stories, yes, there are some amazing stories about Al and the Unser family, but Al really has opened up," Gurss said. "He's been very open and honest about his life, and that includes things that maybe aren't so glorious as Indy 500 wins.

"I really admire his openness, his honesty, his willingness to tell details of his life that really don't always paint him as heroic, for lack of a better term. As an author, it was great to work with Al on that."

The book is scheduled to be released on October 1. It delves into an incredible racing life and includes stories about the Indy 500 wins, the unbelievable failure of not qualifying for the 1995 Indy 500 after winning the 500 from the pole in '94. The book, Unser says, is not targeted at race fans or those who grew up rooting for his dad, Al Unser Sr., or his famous racing uncle, Bobby Unser.

"I want to show the non-race fan, try to reach the people who have struggles every single day of their lives," Unser said. "Even the ones who are successful, like I am, my father and my uncle. They have struggles too"

The book is filled with many of the back stories of Unser's failures off the track—failures that filled the tabloids as much as they did the sports pages.

"With the substance abuse disorder that I have, I needed to tell the story," Unser said. "So I searched out for Jade who has done a fantastic job with "The Beast," John Andretti's book, Dale Earnhardt Jr. his book. I needed to find someone who understood the racing fraternity and also could tell my story. I was just fully honest with him and just told him my stories—racing stories, personal life stories, relationships that I've had in the past."

Unser said that he became a believer in Christ in 2019 and was baptized in 2020, and those life-changing events played a role in his decision to tell his story now.

"Simply put, the stories that are in the book, both racing and my personal life, there's going to be people that go, 'Wow! I didn't know that existed,'" Unser said. "And there's going to be people that knew me, sort of, and are going to say, 'That makes sense now. That's why this happened and that happened.' It's going to be both spectrums.

"The most important thing I know today is that I live in the present," Unser said. "I've let go of the past. The process of this book helped me let go of the past. It helped me not see into the future, because that's in God's hands. Today, I just need to do the best that I can do today, and not worry about anything other than that."

These days, Unser works with a group called "Future Star Racing" that helps to support talented young drivers who lack the resources to take their skills to the next level. Unser is also involved with "Wings and Wheels," a foundation with similar objectives.

Photo credit: TODD PANAGOPULOS - Getty Images
Photo credit: TODD PANAGOPULOS - Getty Images

"I've been so blessed with the opportunities I've had in my life—being born where I was born, it was all given to me. What I'm trying to do I pass that on in the future with the young drivers of the future."

Unser said this book is not the culmination of a career or a racing life, it's just the beginning of another of what Unser says are many chapters to go.

"My story's not over yet," Unser said. "Each day is a new day and a new journey. I want to reach people that are not race fans. As I've gone in my life, auto racing in general—you take F1, you take NASCAR, you take IndCar— it's a small fishbowl to the world in general. The world in general is so much bigger than this fishbowl.

"Hopefully, me being honest about my life, and what I've overcome and how I've been successful, not only on the racetrack, but the challenges that I've had in my personal life (will make a difference). Today, I've met those challenges because of what I've been through and what I've learned. I was watching the Olympics and Simone (Biles). It's right there. I totally understood what she was going through because I've lived it. There is a positive outcome for all of that, and you can over come them. You can learn from all of them and be a better person. That's what I want to share or try to share.

"I don't see this as being my last book. I see another one and another one. As my life unfolds, I think we can reach a lot of people. God willing, we're going to do that."

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