Al Unser Jr. grew up in one of the most famous families in motorsports. He more than added to the legacy, winning the Indianapolis 500 twice and capturing a pair of IndyCar championships. While incredibly successful on the track, he had more than his share of personal problems off of it, including substance abuse and multiple arrests.
In his new book Al Unser Jr: A Checkered Past, fans get a behind-the-scenes look at both his professional and personal life. This week, author Jade Gurss appeared on the Dale Jr. Download to promote the book and talk with another man he wrote a book about and worked with as his publicist for years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. During the interview, the author talked about Unser’s dark past. Then, a member of Earnhardt’s staff read an excerpt from the book about one of those dark moments that stunned everyone in the room.
Al Unser Jr. had Hall of Fame career but endured personal challenges
Al Unser Jr. raced to one of the most successful careers in IndyCar history, recording 34 wins (5th most all-time), and included wins at the Indianapolis 500 in 1992 and 1994. He won the championship in 1990 and 1994. He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2009.
Unser last competed in 2007, and that’s when his troubles started. He was involved in a drunk driving and hit-and-run incident in Nevada that year. A few years later, he was arrested for drunk driving and reckless driving in New Mexico. His most recent arrest occurred in 2019 for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
In 2016, he candidly talked with the Indianapolis Star about his alcoholism and how he reached a low point when his wife Shelley left him.
“(Most kids) go to college, learn to live on their own, fall in love, have their heart broken. I never had any of that until I was 50 years old,” Unser said. “That’s when all the s*** happened. I had to learn to feed myself, do my own laundry, keep my house clean, find out who I was. Believe me, there were a lot of very, very dark days.”
Al Unser Jr.’s new book explores dark past, including time he planned to end his life
In the new book, Al Unser Jr: A Checkered Past, the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, as the title describes, delves deep into his checkered past.
Author Jade Gurss appeared on the Dale Jr. Download this week to promote the book. Gurss, who also wrote Driver #8 with Earnhardt, talked about Unser’s many career achievements, as well as those incidents that made the tabloids. During one portion of the interview, producer Matthew Dillner read an excerpt from the book where Unser specifically addresses those lonely days after his wife left him:
“In the mirror, I saw someone who looked like me but with larger creases around his eyes and a puffier face. I was slumped on the couch pushing aside what was left of a s***** Salisbury steak microwave TV dinner. My skin was clammy and pale. I had been sober for six months. I used to keep a gun with my snowmobile to fend off wild animals. I felt the texture of the handle. Then I picked it up. Slowly I raised the gun to my head. Tonight I was going to do it. The gun felt heavy. Very f****** heavy. The tip of the barrel was as cold as my skin. On April 19, 2012, I decided to kill myself on my fiftieth birthday.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. appreciates honesty
The reading of that excerpt was a heavy and powerful moment for those in the room.
“Yeah, that’s not one of the happier moments,” Gurss said. He then compared Unser’s honesty to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s openness about his concussions. “He wants to share what he went through to help other people that may be struggling or have issues with drugs or alcohol. I’m proud of a lot of things I’ve done but this is pretty up there to talk about such a serious subject with such a great guy.”
Earnhardt said he has always respected Unser, but with this type of honesty he appreciates him that much more. He said his candidness in the book will benefit a lot of people, including Unser.
“I think when somebody is brave enough to tell their truth, it might help a lot of people but it also is definitely probably going to help him in some way just shed some weight,” Earnhardt said. “To have been able to get to this point where he can come out and say these things. Because when you don’t share it, you’re harboring all of that inside, and it’s so painful for him personally. Hopefully that’s an experience he has by sharing the book.”
The book is available for purchase on October 1.