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Road to Recovery

At 41, Unser Jr. is not deterred following serious all-terrain vehicle accident.

November 02, 2003|Mike Harris | Associated Press

A fractured pelvis? It'll take a lot more than that to stop the irrepressible Al Unser Jr.

The second-generation IndyCar star has come back from broken bones, alcohol abuse and depression over marital problems, so he considers his latest trouble just another obstacle to overcome.

"It's actually three fractures in the pelvis, but only one of them went all the way through the bone," Unser said, referring to the injury Oct. 19 when he was thrown from an all-terrain vehicle in woods near his home in Chama, N.M. "The doctors say I don't need any surgery and it's going to heal up just fine."

Asked how the accident happened, Unser sounded a little embarrassed in a telephone interview with Associated Press.

"I was chasing a coyote," Unser said, chuckling. "I hit a rock and it pitched me on my backside. I stood up, but I knew right away that something was wrong because I couldn't put any pressure on my left leg."

Unser lay back down, and it was about an hour before a hunter found him and called for help.

"I was laying there wondering what was wrong with me, but I was already thinking about getting back in the race car."

Unser is out of work, for now. His contract with the IRL's Kelley Racing ended Oct. 12 with the season-finale at Texas Motor Speedway.

At 41, with a debilitating injury and no ride, the future would appear bleak to most people. Not the upbeat Unser.

He's about to start physical therapy, with water aerobics and some weight training for his upper body.

"I'm going to get on it hard for the next four to six weeks," he said. "Then I'm going to be ready to race."

And as long as he can get back to top physical condition, he should be able to find a ride. He's coming off a good year in which he won a race and finished sixth in the season points.

"I've been talking with Kelley and with Patrick Racing, and I consider both of them 'A' teams," Unser said. "But I don't think anything is going to come together until after we get down the road a little."

Jim Freudenberg, Kelley vice president of operations, said the team would gladly re-sign Unser as Scott Sharp's teammate if a primary sponsor for Unser's car can be found to replace Corteco, which left at the end of the season.

"We are currently working on a number of scenarios to make that happen," Freudenberg said. "Al is a legend in the sport of open-wheel racing and is still very competitive."

Patrick, one of the rival CART series' original teams, has been rumored to be moving to the IRL in 2004.

Team owner U.E. Patrick, who fields cars for Spaniard Oriol Servia in CART, said the team is exploring options for next season.

But the team owner acknowledged he has talked with Unser and several other drivers about 2004 and said he would not hesitate to hire the former CART champion.

"Al Jr. has proven over the years that he is a very competitive driver and we absolutely believe he will be competitive in the future," Patrick said.

Speculation about Unser's racing future has been rampant since longtime competitor and friend Michael Andretti retired last May to focus on his new job as a team owner. But the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner said it's not his time yet.

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