Little Al To Be Grand Marshal At Long Beach
Long Beach, Calif. _ Widely acknowledged as open-wheel racing’s “King of the Beach,” Al Unser Jr. will add another title during this weekend’s running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Unser Jr., who won America’s premier street race a record six times between 1988 and 1995 while competing in CART, will serve as grand marshal for the 35th running on Sunday. Unser also will lead the professional contingent in the popular Toyota Pro/Celebrity race. Additionally, Little Al and longtime rival (and former teammate) Bobby Rahal will be inducted into the Motorsports Walk of Fame.
“Southern California is always beautiful at this time of year, and the fans make Long Beach more than just a race,” said Unser, now a driver coach with the sanctioning Indy Racing League. “They love the single-seat, open-wheel cars. And what I’m really excited about is now it’s back to where they can see the IndyCars that will run the Indy 500 on the streets of Long Beach again, like it used to be back in the 1980s and ’90s. That’s what made it special.”
Unser believes one reason he always performed well on the tricky street course was that he treated the event as a warm-up for the Indianapolis 500 and The Month of May.
“For me in particular, it was the race before the Indy 500,” said Unser, a two-time winner of the 500-miler at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “You really want to do well the race before the Indy 500 so you can take that momentum into the month of May. I really, really worked hard on that race in particular because it generally fell before the month of May. If you could win that race, the whole team would take that momentum into the month of May and think, ‘We can win against these guys.’ It just makes for an exciting event.”
During his eight-year Long Beach run, Unser won six times (1988, ’89, ’90, ’91, ’94 and ‘95) and added a fourth-place finish in 1992. He looked set to win that year, too, only to be bumped out of the lead late in the race by Galles Racing teammate Danny Sullivan. During that span, Unser led laps at Long Beach every year except 1993, totaling a record 545.
“He was very good there and he proved it more and more,” three-time Long Beach race-winner Mario Andretti said. “He certainly won his share there and had that place down pat.”
Unser _ who also will celebrate his 47th birthday Sunday _ recorded 31 race wins and two championships (1990 and ’94) in the CART/PPG IndyCar World Series. Little Al added three more victories while competing under Indy Racing League sanction.
– Courtesy the Indy Racing LeagueNo Comment