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On Track Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser, Jr., will be competing in the Bombardier 500K with the Indy Racing League at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on June 7.
texasmonthly.com: You’re doing some of the best driving of your career these days. What’s made the difference?
The biggest thing is that I quit drinking. Last summer I went into a rehab center. I learned so much about what alcohol does to your body. I had never even guessed that I was an alcoholic. And lo and behold, I am. That’s been the biggest difference in my life. Everything is just so much better now.
texasmonthly.com: Have you raced a lot in Texas?
I have, actually. I used to race sprint cars at the Devil’s Bowl, a dirt track south of Dallas. That was my first race in Texas. Then in Houston, at the CART event in the streets there. I raced that a couple of times.
texasmonthly.com: Didn’t you have one of your best starts as well as one of the closest second finishes in IRL history last year at the Texas Motor Speedway?
Yes, at the time it was the closest second finish in the IRL.
texasmonthly.com: Where’s your favorite place to race?
The Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway—it’s the oldest race, and it’s the largest stadium in the world. More people show up there on race day than for anything else in the world.
texasmonthly.com: What kind of condition do you have to be in to be a driver?
You need to be in good physical shape. I would say 90 percent is cardiovascular. We’re in a four-layer fire suit. I lose four to six pounds on a hot day in the race car.
texasmonthly.com: Do you have any rivals?
Every race-car driver out there is a rival. I like to stay in front of people. My direct contemporary is Michael Andretti. Our careers have paralleled each other from day one. We’re six months apart in age. And he’s been under the same kind of pressures as I have, being a famous race-car driver’s son. We’ve had some really great races.
texasmonthly.com: Have you had any close calls?
There have been a couple. I broke my right ankle both times. In 1985 I hit nose-first into the wall. That one bothered me because it was my own fault. I was all alone; I wasn’t trying to avoid anything. The second accident was in 1999. It was at the start of the race, and a guy spun in front of me and took me with him.
texasmonthly.com: What goes through your head when that’s happening?
When you’re on your way to the wall, you’re going, “Oh s–t.” When you lose control and you’re running over two hundred miles an hour, it’s instantly in God’s hands. You’re just there for the ride. All you want to do is stop. You’re never going too fast until you lose control. Then you realize, “I’m going way too fast.”
texasmonthly.com: Do you ever get tired of turning left?
Never. The thing I would get tired of is turning right, because that’s where the wall is. (See Fort Worth: Sports.)