Motor Racing / Shav Glick : Al Unser Will Be at Rose Bowl as Indy Opens

Practice for the Indianapolis 500 will start Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but one of the most successful drivers in the sport, three-time 500 winner Al Unser, won’t be there.

Unser will be at the Rose Bowl instead, driving a Jeep sport truck in Mickey Thompson’s off-road Gran Prix.

For some inexplicable reason, Unser does not have a ride for the 500 May 24, or he would be at the Speedway where his son, Al Jr., eight former winners--from A. J. Foyt in 1961 to Bobby Rahal last year--and as many as 76 other hopefuls will take their first laps Saturday.

“I’ve had some offers, but I’m not going to get in a car just to be at the Speedway,” the elder Unser said. “If I drive, it will be only in a good car with solid backing.”


Stories were printed earlier in the season that Unser, 47, would drive for brothers Larry and Ken Cahill, hotel magnates from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but the team apparently failed to get the necessary sponsorship to field a car.

“I’ve talked with them, and I’ve heard a lot of stories, but nothing’s a fact until the papers are signed, and I haven’t seen any papers,” Unser said.

Unser won the 500 in 1970, 1971 and 1978, and was national champion only two years ago when he edged Al Jr. by a single point. Big Al also won the national driving championship in 1970 and 1983.

But for now, it’s off-road racing in the Rose Bowl.

This will be Unser’s second ride in the Jeep, although the first outing at the Pontiac Silverdome, near Detroit, lasted only two laps before a head gasket broke.

Unser and teammate David Ashley will in the most competitive race on the Rose Bowl program.

Steve Millen, last year’s truck class champion, will return in a new Toyota after missing two races because of a broken leg and broken ribs. He has been testing--both himself and the truck--and says he’s ready for the bumps and jumps of stadium racing.

Also in Toyotas in an attempt to win a fifth straight manufacturers championship will be Ivan Stewart and Frank Arciero Jr. All have won one of the four previous events--Millen in Anaheim, Stewart in Pontiac and Arciero in Indianapolis. Arciero is also the points leader in the Super 1600 single-seater class.


Mazda, in an attempt to gain ground in the factory battle, has added Ron Millen, Steve’s brother, to its team to race with Glenn Harris and Jeff Huber. Harris won the San Diego race. Toyota leads Mazda, 381-347, with three events left.

Also entered in the truck race are Walker Evans in a Dodge, Danny Thompson in a Chevrolet, and Roger Mears in a Nissan.

Gates will open at 4:30 p.m. for an autograph session. First race is at 6:30 p.m. Because of a Pasadena curfew, all racing must be over by 10 p.m.

MOTOCROSS--Al Davis might be unhappy with the Coliseum, but the Raiders’ decision to halt construction of luxury suites opened the door for promoter Mike Goodwin to schedule the 15th Super Bowl of Motocross in the Coliseum June 27. If construction had been under way, the motocross would not have been scheduled there this season.


SPRINT CARS--Brad Noffsinger, defending champion in the California Racing Assn. won last Saturday night’s Ascot Park feature and moved into the points lead just in time to head East for six races in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Noffsinger leads Mike Sweeney, 687 to 675. CRA drivers will race Friday in Wichita, Kan.; Saturday in Lawton, Okla.; Sunday in Oklahoma City; Wednesday back in Wichita, May 8 in Dallas and May 9 in Tulsa, Okla., before returning home.

CAN-AM--Newly organized Canadian-American Teams, a throwback to the Can-Am days of Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Mark Donohue and George Follmer will hold the first of an 11-race series Sunday at Willow Springs. Twenty-two entries for a pair of 65-mile races include Bill Tempero of Fort Collins, Colo. and Dr. Lou Sell of Islamorada, Fla., in March-Chevies, and Dr. Stuart Baumgard of Encino, in a VDS-Chevy. Racing will start at 11 a.m. and will include Formula USA motorcycles and open-wheel Formula Fords. The Can-Am cars will return to Willow Springs on Oct. 3.

IMSA CAMEL GT--Most of the same cast that raced in the Times Grand Prix of Endurance last weekend at Riverside will be at Laguna Seca this weekend for the 24th annual Nissan Monterey Triple Crown. Chip Robinson, who remained the GTP leader despite losing to the Jaguar team of John Morton and Hurley Haywood, will drive solo in Al Holbert’s Porsche. Morton received the Norelco driver’s cup as the outstanding driver at Riverside after catching Robinson two laps from the end of the 122-lap race.

DRAG BOATS--The International Hot Boat Assn. will return to Puddingstone Lake this weekend for the In-n-Out Burger Springnationals. Jim Ermshar of Riverside, 1986 driver of the year, will be favored in the blown gas flat-bottom class. Mel Kerby of Glendora, who ran a record 193.13 m.p.h. in 5.89 seconds in the blown alcohol hydro class at Phoenix, is also entered.


DRAG RACING--World top-fuel champion Don Garlits will be at Bakersfield’s Famoso strip this weekend for the 28th running of the traditional March-May meet, held in conjunction with the Winston sportsman series. Challengers to Big Daddy include Larry Minor and defending champion John Force. Funny car drivers include Don Prudhomme, winner of the recent Gatornationals, and Ed McCulloch, winner of last year’s Million Dollar drag race in San Bernardino. Qualifying will be Friday and Saturday with eliminations starting Sunday at 11 a.m. . . . The Kamino Nationals, featuring El Camino race cars, will be held Sunday at L.A. County Raceway near Palmdale.

SUPER MODIFIEDS--Billy Vukovich III, whose grandfather was a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, will attempt to continue his domination of the United States Auto Club division Saturday night at Saugus Speedway. Vukovich won the first four races. Street stocks, Figure 8’s and an ego challenge are also scheduled.

MOTORCYCLES--National speedway champion Bobby Schwartz’s decision to ride in Southern California instead of returning to his Wolverhampton team in the British League has had an impact on local racing. Schwartz swept all four local tracks last week and will be trying for a repeat this week at Ascot Park’s South Bay Stadium, Costa Mesa, Victorville and San Bernardino. . . . Chris Carr, on a Harley-Davidson, and Doug Chandler, on a Honda, will resume their battle for the American Motorcyclist Assn. Grand National championship Sunday in the San Jose Mile. Carr, who won the Sacramento Mile, leads Chandler, the Ascot half-mile winner, by a single point. Chandler won at San Jose last year.

RALLY--The Rim of the World, one of the West Coast’s top rallies, will be conducted Saturday and Sunday in the Angeles National Forest, near Lake Hughes. As many as 50 teams may compete in the SCCA-sanctioned California Rally Series event which will start at 2 p.m. from Antelope Valley Nissan in Lancaster and finish at approximately 3 a.m. Sunday at the Lancaster Desert Inn. Favorites are Dean Blagowsky of Alamogordo, N.M., series champion Lon Peterson of Victorville and Steve Culp of Shreveport, La.


STOCK CARS--Dick Altman moved into contention to challenge points leaders Marcus Mallett, Don Wright Jr. and Ron Meyer in Winston Racing Series pro stocks with his first win last week. Altman will try for a second win in Sunday night’s main event.

MIDGETS--Former USAC champion Ron (Sleepy) Tripp, a veteran of 13 years of national competition, and P.J. Jones, 18-year-old son of Parnelli, will continue their battle in the USAC Western Regional series Saturday night at Ascot Park. P.J. barely lost to Tripp last Saturday night at Ventura--the same day Parnelli won the Firestone Firehawk race at Riverside. A three-quarter midget main event will also be run.

VINTAGE CARS--Two days of racing are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at Riverside International Raceway, highlighted by a two-hour sports car enduro and a vintage Can-Am feature race Sunday.

DRIVER OF THE YEAR--Dale Earnhardt’s feat of winning six of the first eight Winston Cup races this season made him a unanimous choice in first-quarter balloting for 1987 driver of the year, conducted by Cuyro Services. Behind Earnhardt were Bill Elliott, Mario Andretti and the IMSA Porsche team of Chip Robinson and Al Holbert.