INDIANAPOLIS – The race on Friday might seem more like the Indianapolis 500 than the real thing.
Andretti vs. Unser.
Ahh, just like the good ol’ days.
Only this time it’s Marco Andretti – not Michael or Mario – who will take on another Unser named Al, this one going by “Just Al” to separate himself from the father and grandfather who carried that same name to such heights at the Brickyard.
They’re not quite ready for the Indy 500, but they’ll provide a tantalizing glimpse of what the future might hold when they take part in a 100-mile Infiniti Pro Series race two days ahead of Sunday’s main event.
The two names have been intertwined at this 2 1/2 -mile oval for more than three decades.
Al Unser Sr. (a.k.a. “Big Al”) won the 500 a record-tying four times, while his son (“Little Al”) took the checkered flag twice. And don’t forget Big Al’s big brother, Bobby, a three-time 500 champion.
The Andrettis are known more for their heart-wrenching failures – “Andretti Luck” is part of any Indy dictionary – than their successes at the Speedway. Mario won the race in 1969, then spent the next quarter-century trying to win another one, always done in by the saddest words in racing: “Andretti is slowing down.”
His son Michael led more laps than any driver who never took a swig of milk in Victory Lane, his quest undermined by mechanical failures, wrecks, better cars and even a few lapses behind the wheel. He finally gave up after the 2003 race, retiring to become a full-time car owner.
“I just remember at the Speedway Motel and listening to the announcer say my dad’s and grandfather’s names,” Marco said. “I know we have a lot of bad memories here. I wasn’t around for the ‘69 victory.”
Marco wasn’t even born until 1987..
The latest Andretti already has made quite an impact, winning his Pro Series debut at St. Petersburg, Fla., in April. “Just Al” finished fourth in the first head-to-head meeting between the drivers.