A Checkered Past: Complete Takedown
Winning came naturally for Al Unser, Jr. He had a gift for finding the fast line on the track and he possessed a boisterous and lovable personality. Fans and the press adored him, but behind this affable persona, his appetite for drugs and alcohol was destroying his private life. Unser's battle to climb out of that cave is one of the great stories in motorsports. A Checkered Past is an unblinking story of triumph, tragedy, and the road to recovery. In this excerpt from the book, catch a glimpse into the story that broke his career.
My girlfriend Gina and I had been drinking heavily on a Monday night in Indianapolis. We were out at a club until early in the morning. She was driving us back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where we were staying in my motorhome. I was drunkenly messing with the stick shift, jamming the car into neutral, when we got into an argument. It escalated until she punched me, and I retaliated by hitting her back. She pulled over and stopped. “Get the fuck out of the car!” I yelled. I climbed into the driver’s seat and left her stranded on the shoulder of Interstate 465 at 3:30 a.m.
The police showed up at the motorhome to arrest me on domestic violence charges. I posted a $30,000 bond and was released. It was a media circus, so I was able to use a tunnel from the courthouse to leave from an adjoining building. It was a shameful moment for me. My drinking had caused a lot of trouble, but now, it was known around the world.
My attorney John Caponigro called Wednesday morning to tell me about a story by IndyCar journalist Robin Miller on ESPN.com. “It’s really bad,” he said.
Miller had been working on the story for years, but my arrest was the trigger that allowed him to finally publish it. Miller’s main source? My former “man-nanny” Steve Schweissgut, who had been my drug dealer. He had gone to Miller in 1999 after I fired him. Steve was also the source for a similar Albuquerque Journal article that hit the Associated Press wire nationally that Thursday.
Miller’s story detailed my drug use and heavy drinking. The story portrayed me as “mean and angry” when I got drunk, and described several ugly incidents that hadn’t resulted in police involvement. Miller quoted my dad, who seemed to stand up for me. Uncle Bobby and Bobby Jr. were also quoted, and they didn’t shy away from the truth.
Nothing would ever be the same. It was a complete takedown of my career. Miller said in the article he hoped the “adverse publicity” would force me to finally get some help. It was devastating. I was so angry, I wanted to sue Robin Miller into oblivion. I was so much in denial, I blamed everything on him.
But I couldn’t sue him because everything in the story was true.