Unser Jr. Wins Vegas 300
April 22, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
It paid off Saturday when Unser snapped a five-year victory drought by winning the Vegas Indy 300.
"Cody never gives up and that's what it's all about," Unser said. "She inspires me."
Unser dedicated the win to his 13-year-old daughter, who has been paralyzed since February 1999 with a rare neurological infection in her spinal cord.
Cody Unser has lost two inches of her spinal cord since becoming ill, Unser said, and is wheelchair-bound because of her transverse myelitis. The New Mexico state legislature honored her earlier this year for her courage and willingness to help others.
"The challenges facing her in her everyday life are well beyond any challenges I faced here today," Unser said. "The strength and inspiration she gives me are tremendous."
Unser, competing in only his third Indy Racing Northern Light Series race, led the last 20 laps to win an Indy-car race for the first time since 1995.
Unser, who was running second when leader Scott Goodyear's engine failed with 20 laps to go, finished 12.531 seconds ahead of pole sitter Mark Dismore.
It was the final IRNLS race before the Indianapolis 500 next month, a race Unser has won twice.
"You just carry this momentum into the month of May," Unser said. "This is what we've been working for."
Unser won in his backup car, which he qualified at the last minute Friday after his primary car ran 17 mph slower than Dismore.
He started in the 11th row, then gradually worked his way up as a variety of mishaps took cars in front of him out of the race.
"We're going to Indy with a lot of momentum," Unser said.
Dismore last led on lap 155 and appeared to have the dominant car, but a decision to make a pit stop while the race was under a green flag cost him the lead and he never recovered.
"We were rolling the dice," Dismore said. "If it had worked we would have been heroes."
Unser and Dismore were the only two cars on the lead lap when the checkered flag came down in front of a sparse crowd at the Las Vegas Speedway.
Sam Hornish Jr. finished third, followed by Jeret Schroeder and Robbie Buhl.
Dismore led 90 of the 208 laps, but it was Unser who was in position when Goodyear's engine began smoking and Unser passed him on the 188th lap.
"Welcome back," Dismore told Unser in Victory Lane after he won his first IRNLS race in three starts.
Unser, who last ran at the Indianapolis 500 in 1994 when he won the race for the second time, had run in the CART series before signing with the IRL this year.
The win was the 32nd in 276 career starts for Unser.
"I'm happy for Little Al," Dismore said. "It's great for the series and it's great for him."
Sara Fisher, the 19-year-old running in only her third IRL race, had worked her way up to second place behind Dismore when her car spun out coming out of the fourth turn.
Eliseo Salazar, running in fourth just behind Fisher, ran into her and the two cars slid into the wall on the 126th lap.
"I don't know exactly what it was but the rear of the car came around almost instantly," Fisher said. "There's nothing you can do when that happens."
Salazar blasted Fisher for being in the race, less than a year removed from high school in Asheville, Ohio.
"This is serious stuff. This is not for her," Salazar said. "It's just a big shame."