Al Ansar Jr. wrote in his autobiography, “I feel more isolated and alone than at any other time in my life.” A checkered past.
“The choice was tough: bottle or gun? I chose the gun. My fiftieth birthday seemed like a good time to end everything.
“After I put the gun to my head, I couldn’t pull the trigger. I slowly lowered it again.”
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On the surface, Ansar Jr. had it. But as the paragraph above confirms, the two-time winner of the Indy 500, the two-time champion of the IndyCar series, and a member of one of America’s most famous racing dynasties, was fighting harder than his opponents in his groundbreaking career.
Drug addiction and alcoholism were not revealed until the end of his career in racing. His life, so perfect to the armies of his fans, was so revealed that suicide seemed to be the only way.
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Speaking to Wide World of Sports about his downward spiral between the 30’s and 40’s, Unsar Jr. laughed when it was suggested that the last 10 years were like a second chance for him.
“Are you kidding me? I’ve been given a third and fourth chance,” he said.
As he described in the book, Ansar Jr. reached a point where he felt he could not continue.
“I was in a state of darkness that didn’t happen overnight,” he wrote.
“It was a long journey from the top of the highest mountain in the ocean to the lowest trench in the ocean. The weight of each failure was crushed.
“When did I become a drug addict and an alcoholic? I don’t know. There is no simple test to confirm whether you are an addict. I read long, slowly from grace.”
Unsar Jr. was a full-fledged star on the American racing scene in the mid-1980s. He comes from racing royalty – his father, Al Unsar, the second person to win the Indy 500 four times, while his uncle, Bobby, won the race three times.
Little Al, as he was known, was runner-up in the 1985 Indica Championship, with no one defeating him by one point except his father.
He finished second again in 1988 before winning the title in 1990. He added another championship in 1994, the same year he won the Indy 500 for the second time, taking his first win two years ago.
“I feel really blessed to have achieved what I set out to do,” he said.
“There are a lot of people who can’t qualify for the Indy 500, let it win twice.
“My career as a successful Indica driver, I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. My life has been a real blessing.”
But as he admits in the book, the two were Ansar Jr. at this good time. The world has seen a successful race car driver at the top of his game, winning one of the most prestigious races in the world.
His personal life, however, was already worrying.
“My personal life was a struggle. Too much partying, too often. Too many women. I was weak as a father,” he wrote.
“The driver of the race car was great. Strong. Confident. So full. But the personal Al Jr. was not strong at all.”
It was not uncommon for his wife, Shelley, to spend the night at home with drugs, cocaine and marijuana. Ansar Jr. lamented that where drug testing is now commonplace, it had little or no consequences for his driving career.
But he will not be drawn when asked how many titles he would have won if he had been clear.
“If I had my life right, who knows? There were some races I won that I shouldn’t have had, and there were races I lost that I should have won,” he admitted.
“So, I don’t know. Honestly, the career I did was a blessing.”
Fall from grace
That career took a turn for the worse in 1995. Driving for the all-winning Penske team, Ansar Jr. and his teammate, Emerson Fitipaldi, both failed to qualify for the Indy 500.
It was a huge blow to what Ansar Jr. called “the biggest embarrassment of my life.”
Albuquerque, Unsar Jr. and Shelley return home “involved in our medicine right now.”
“I want to immerse myself in oblivion.”
He was supposed to be on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he was at home.
Looking back on the benefits of nearly three decades of insight, Little Al identifies the race that will act as a catalyst for disaster.
“It was an excruciating pain. No matter what we did, we couldn’t go fast enough,” he explained.
“It was a huge, huge push and a huge amount of adversity.
“But looking back now, that was God’s will.”
Hit the bottom of the rock
By the end of 1996, Unsar Jr. had made it to the top five of the Indica Championship 11 times in the last 12 seasons.
But as his life got out of control, so did his racing career. He broke up with Shelley, and despite continuing as a full-time Indica driver until 2003, he was sixth in his final year.
He was sacked by Pensk in late 1999, a season that ended in tragedy. Gonzalo Rodrজguez, a teammate of Ansar Jr., was killed in an accident at Laguna Seca in September, and the following month, Greg Moore, who joined Pensk in 2000, died in a tragic accident at the final race of the year in California.
Ansar Jr.’s career has been ruined in a way that does not suit his dignity in sports. In 2002, after a night out in Indianapolis, he was arrested after an argument with his then-girlfriend Gina and charged with domestic violence.
This prompted ESPN.com to publish a story that eventually reveals his drug use and alcoholism.
“Nothing will ever happen,” Ansar Jr. wrote.
“It simply came to our notice then. It was devastating. It was devastating.
“But I couldn’t sue him because everything in the story is true.”
He continued the race, even winning in Texas in 2003, but by 2007 it was all over. His final race in the Indy 500 was a disappointing 26th place, five laps behind the winner.
During his rehabilitation in early 2012, Ansar Jr. told a psychiatrist that he was going to commit suicide, so he put a gun to his head on his 50th birthday.
“The reality of pulling the trigger actually overwhelmed me,” wrote Unsar Jr., promising to commit suicide the next morning. The next day, the urge to shoot was reduced. It was a cycle that repeated itself for weeks, in what he called an “endless loop.”
“Undoubtedly 2012 was the worst year of my life,” he told the Wide World of Sports.
“But it was something I had to go through, and I did. Things have slowly improved, one step at a time.”
“Now that I’m with a great race team, they’ve given me a huge responsibility to help the little ones get off the go-kart.
“It was an opportunity for me that my father and my uncle gave me.
“It’s really something when you advise a young driver that they try something and then they come back with a huge smile on their face because it helped them.”
The opportunity to work with young drivers comes through Future Star Racing, which supports young drivers who do not have the resources to build it themselves.
Ansar Jr. says he can pass any drug test these days because he works to rebuild his self-worth and self-esteem.
The book, he says, is a way to do it.
“We did it during COVID-19, and I never wrote anything about my career, so I thought it was time to tell the story,” he explained.
“I wanted to tell the truth about my personal life. I prayed a lot about it and I felt good about it.
“By telling my story about my personal life, I hope it will help someone with a substance abuse disorder.
“The truth about my personal life puts my racing career in context.
“There was a lot of suffering, and finding Jesus was a big step. It was important to meet Norma, who is now my wife. There were many small steps along the way instead of a big jump.”
At just 60 years old, Ansar Jr. may finally be looking to the future.
“Mentally I was much better off when I was younger. I was much more selfish then,” he admits.
“Today I really appreciate the friends and family around me.
“I must be proud that I came out of it. I could not be what I am today without the trials and tribulations of my life.”
Contact us if you or someone you know needs immediate help Lifeline 13 11 14, Suicide call back service 1300 659 467 or Out of the blue 1300 22 4636. In case of emergency, call 000.
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