Unser: I Have A Problem
July 18, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Unser made the announcement at a news conference in Indianapolis. Team owner Tom Kelley and sponsor Gregory W. Gyllstrom, the CEO of Corteco, accompanied Unser.
“I have a problem with alcohol abuse,” Unser said. “Nearly every poor choice I’ve made in my life occurred under the influence of alcohol. I don’t understand why I have the problem, but I know I have to straighten it out. And, I now am ready to do so.”
Unser, a two-time Indianapolis 500, was arrested last week and charged with battery after an altercation with Jena L. Soto, who told police she was Unser’s girlfriend of four years. According to the Marion County Sherriff Department, Soto accused Unser of hitting her and then leaving her on the side of an interstate highway.
Thursday, the Marion County prosecutor announced he was dropping the case.
“I am embarrassed and sorry for any behavior of mine that has hurt others in the past,” Unser said. “I know I have a problem that needs to be addressed, and I now have a plan to straighten it out. I am ready to enter a substance-abuse center and I look forward to the help that I know I need.
“I am personally touched by the support and actions of Corteco and Kelley Racing, and I will be forever grateful to them for that. And, I’d like to thank each of you in advance for respecting the confidentiality of the treatment that I’ll receive as I move forward.”
Unser’s sponsor, Corteco, made arrangements for him to enter a “nationally recognized substance-abuse center.” The center’s name, location and the type of Unser’s treatment will not be disclosed.
“Al has been a key member of the Corteco family since joining us earlier this year,” Gyllstrom said. “When anyone in our company faces a difficult problem, we want to do everything we can to help. He has done a great job for us on and off the track, and we enjoy working with him. The plan is for him to successfully complete his treatment at the facility and to return to the team sometime in August.”
Unser will miss at least two races, including the Firestone Indy 200 on July 20 at Nashville Superspeedway and the Michigan Indy 400 on July 28 at Michigan International Speedway.
Kelley Racing test driver Tony Renna will substitute for Unser until he returns.
“Al has done a tremendous job for us this year, and we love working with him,” Kelley said. “Although we were disappointed by his actions and are strongly against substance abuse of any kind, we give him a lot of credit for dealing with his problem. We support him completely and look forward to him rejoining the team next month.”
IRL president Tony George supported Unser’s decision and said the league would not levy any further punishment on the driver.
“I was very disappointed to learn of the events involving Al Unser Jr. last week,” George said. “Today’s announcement by Al Unser Jr. is the right thing for him to do, and I fully support it.
“All of us who are friends and fans of Al are pleased with his decision and look forward to his return to the Indy Racing League. He has the full support of his team, his sponsor and of the Indy Racing League. The League is satisfied with the steps that Al is taking and does not contemplate any action.”