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Indy classic: Little Al's redemption in '94
By Alex Laracy, ABC Sports Online

At the 1994 Indianapolis 500, the old adage "What goes around comes around" came into play as Al Unser Jr. gained revenge on his legendary Penske teammate and friendly rival, Emerson Fittipaldi.

  Al Unser Jr. and Roger Penske celebrate their 1994 Indianapolis 500 win.

What happened in '94 really began during the late stages of the 1989 Indy 500, when Unser took the lead from Fittipaldi and appeared to be well on his way to his first victory at the Brickyard. Fittipaldi, however, caught Unser in traffic on the second-to-last lap. As the two blazed into Turn 3 neck and neck, their cars converged, and Unser's spun and crashed violently into the concrete wall.

Fittipaldi cruised to victory with ease, while Unser, uninjured from his crash, ran to the track's edge and applauded his triumphant teammate.

On May 29, 1994, however, the chummy teammates' roles were reversed.

Now a two-time champion at Indy (he also won in '93), Fittipaldi appeared to be headed toward becoming the first repeat Indy winner since Al Unser Sr. in 1971. But, just as in 1991 when his transmission snapped, Fittipaldi's car lost control on lap 184. While attempting to lap Unser, Fittipaldi's car began twitching and refused to stick.

"He had a huge lead, but had one more pit stop to make and I didn't," recalls Unser. "He was trying to get by me in order to ensure the victory for himself. He ended up trying a little too hard in Turn 4 and went up and smacked the wall. And that was that -- the race was over."

Dad retired that year, so it was really like dad handed me the torch saying, 'OK son, it's your job now.' I was really proud of my father and I am proud to be his son. It all worked out for the best.
Al Unser Jr.

Unser cruised the final 16 laps into Victory Lane with runner-up Jacques Villeneuve never offering a legitimate threat. Team Penske led 193 of the race's 200 laps.

Unser proceeded to take a very special victory lap around the Speedway in the pace car with his legendary father riding shotgun.

"Dad retired that year, so it was really like dad handed me the torch saying, 'OK son, it's your job now,'" Little Al said. "I was really proud of my father and I am proud to be his son. It all worked out for the best."

Unser Jr. recalls spotting Fittipaldi's marks on the wall in Turn 4 and pointing them out to his dad, a four-time Indy champion.

"What can I say, I hated to see that for Emerson, but I was extremely happy for myself," Unser said.

One would think that Unser and Fittipaldi would be at each other's throats after a pair of heartbreaking finishes in this the world's most famous auto race. But this was not the case.

"Even before '89, Emerson Fittipaldi and myself were very good friends," Little Al said. "There were no hard feelings. We've been friends ever since."

The weekend's action ran into overtime for Unser Jr. At the Victory Dinner the next night, his 7-year-old daughter, Cody, had to leave after complaining of pain in her abdomen. She was hospitalized with appendicitis. Unser's wife, Shelley, went with her to the hospital as Unser accepted the biggest payoff in auto racing history at the time -- $1,373,813. Unser's share broke the record of $1.24 million he had previously set for his 1992 victory.

"It didn't really take away from the victory at all," Unser said. "She ended up just fine, and actually, being a race car driver and not a speaker, it wasn't all that bad to not have to get up in front of all those people and talk. But there was a lot of emotion and I was concerned about my daughter so we rushed over to the hospital and they pulled her appendix out when we got there."

With his father passing the reigns over to his son in his final year of racing, on top of gaining redemption against Fittipaldi, combined with his daughter's scare, Al Unser Jr. remembers his 1994 Indy 500 victory as an emotional roller coaster ride, yet a glorious win nonetheless. He claims his first victory two years prior will be the one he will always remember most, but it is the memory of that fateful day in '94 that he'll surely use to motivate himself for this year's race (ABC, May 28, 11a.m. ET).

"Anytime you can pull into Victory Lane in Indianapolis, whether it's your third time, your fourth or your hundredth, it's a very special day and it means a lot."
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