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Published: Sunday, 5/29/2005

Indy 500 notebook: For 2nd time since '63, the race is Unser-less

BY RON MUSSELMAN
AND MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITERS

INDIANAPOLIS - Talk about a break in tradition.

For only the second time since 1963, there won't be a racer named Unser in the 33-car field that will start in today's Indianapolis 500.

"It's sad. It seems weird to me," Bobby Unser said.

In all, six Unsers spanning four generations have combined for 71 starts, won four poles and made nine trips to Victory Lane on the track that helped make them open-wheel racing's royal family.

Al Unser Sr. won four 500s, Bobby captured three, and Al Jr. won the most famous race in the world two times. Even after Jerry Unser died on May 17, 1959 from complications from burns he suffered in a practice crash, the lure of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway kept attracting the Unsers.

"In racing, Indianapolis is home for us," Al Sr. said. "That's why I say Indy is the most important race, the big red apple, the greatest spectacle in racing. There's no other place that gives you the love by winning it."

Robby and Johnny Unser have also taken part in the Indy 500, with Johnny driving for Toledo businessman Ron Hemelgarn's team in 1999. Al Unser Jr.'s 22-year-old son, Al, who is racing in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, finished fourth in the Futaba Freedom 100 at the speedway on Friday.

The family tree looks like this: Al Sr., Jerry and Bobby Unser are brothers. Johnny is Jerry's son, Al Jr. is Al's son, and Robby is the son of Bobby.

GOOD OMEN: The Marlboro Team Penske crew for Sam Hornish Jr. won the annual Pit Stop Challenge leading up to the race. A year ago, Buddy Rice's team followed up its victory in the annual pit stop competition with a win on race day.

Hornish, who has finished no higher than 14th in five Indy starts, is no doubt hoping some of that luck rubs off on him.

"I think that momentum is everything here," said team owner Roger Penske, who has won 13 Indy titles. "We've had our ups and downs over the years. The pit stop competition is something that we've always challenged our guys on. We are going to need that same precision, absolutely no mistakes on Sunday, and we can win this race."

The Penske crew pocketed $30,000 for winning the pit stop competition.

PARTS IS PARTS: Searching for a way to explain Marlboro Team Penske's success, some people have grumbled that engine supplier Toyota gives special consideration to the team that has won the Indy 500 13 times. Roger Penske bristles at the suggestion.

"We have no special parts, and we have the same parts everybody else has," Penske said. "We spend an awful lot of time on the car, and we can take things and work on them from our perspective, but we start with the same engine and the same parts as everyone else."

200 COUNTRIES: The spectacle that is the Indianapolis 500 will be broadcast on ABC here in the U.S., while ESPN expects to reach more than 338 million households in 200 countries around the world with its race coverage. Coverage begins at noon, with the race starting at 1 p.m.

The coverage is also distributed over the American Forces Network to military personnel stationed in 176 countries and U.S. territories.

INTERNATIONAL FIELD: This year's Indy 500 has a strong international flavor, with 16 of the 33 drivers coming from countries other than the United States.

Brazil has four drivers in the field, while there are three from the United Kingdom, two from Canada and one driver each from Australia, the Czech Republic, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Sweden and South Africa.



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