Could Al Unser III be making an open-wheel comeback?

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A few years ago, as Paul Tracy’s driving career in the Verizon IndyCar Series began to wound down, the Canadian champion-turned-NBCSN analyst spent the winter providing a series of cryptic tweets about his plans.

He never let on exactly what they were, but the mystery was such that without a proper farewell tour behind the wheel, we were all intrigued by the process. It even led me to create the now-sparingly, but then-frequently used “#CrypticLikePT” hashtag.

Tracy, you may remember, was longtime teammates with Al Unser Jr. at Team Penske in the 1990s.

And via our third degree in the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, this brings us logically to Al Unser III – a.k.a. “Mini Al” or “Just Al” – who’s been out of competitive racing for nearly a decade but is going full #CrypticLikePT following a return to Twitter after a seven-year hiatus.

On January 13, Al III posted this tweet:

You wouldn’t think too much of it as a one-off, but the fact that several subsequent tweets have followed adds more fuel to the fire.

The reference to Indy clearly indicates a desire – or at the very least, an interest – for Unser to return to the North American open-wheel scene.

Unser, now 33, raced in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – then known as the Infiniti and later Indy Pro Series – over 21 starts from 2004 to 2008 with limited success. His best finish was third on five occasions. He also made 16 starts in Formula Atlantic from 2004 to 2006, with a best finish of fourth three times.

His most recent starts, in 2008, then featured one of the more bizarre racing stories in recent memory.

I remember this well because 2008 was my first year where I covered more than one IndyCar race on site, and the gap from the Indianapolis 500 to my home race in Milwaukee witnessed what we thought was the end of Unser’s racing career.

Basically, Unser drove for a team called Playa Del Racing in Indy Lights. The team was an Indy 500-only entrant in the pre-mergification years before 2008, when the Verizon IndyCar Series came back together to reunite IndyCar and Champ Car.

Playa Del Racing didn’t really have much going for it, running old Panoz chassis to more or less fill the field prior to 2008. They did at least provide a chance for underrated American driver Phil Giebler to make his Indy 500 debut in 2007, where he won race rookie-of-the-year honors.

A new guy not too many people had heard of called Eric Zimmerman reportedly purchased the assets of PDR’s IndyCar and Indy Lights teams going into the month of May, and rebranded the team as American Dream Motorsports.

Giebler, in the only Panoz entered, tried his damndest to make it into the field for a second year without much of a prayer and crashed hard to write off the chassis. It was the last time a Panoz chassis attempted to qualify for the race, and the Dallara-Honda spec era started then for the next four ‘500s. Unser, meanwhile, finished a forgettable 11th in the Freedom 100, but had advanced from 19th on a 27-car grid (yes, Indy Lights had 20-plus car fields and yes, I wish they could get back to that number as well).

The story got weird after Indy. Via a message board, tracked by Trackside Online and one of racing’s blogging pioneers Jeff Iannucci for the much-lamented My Name is IRL blog, from initial reports out of KVBC (now KSNV, the NBC affiliate in Las Vegas), Zimmerman reportedly drove the team’s transporter himself from Indy to Milwaukee. Or at least planned to, because he got taken into police custody in Kenosha, Wisconsin on the way alleging from stiffing some kids in Nevada. Again, allegedly.

Unser was at Milwaukee but wasn’t driving, his place due to be taken by Tony Turco out of Cincinnati. But while the car was on site – somehow with the remaining patchwork group of ADM members taking the car and transporter to Milwaukee – it never turned a wheel on track. And then according to one of the ADM crew members, Turco up and left with the transporter after Milwaukee and drove it back to Cincinnati.

This all leads back, somehow, to this series of tweets from Unser III. It would seem right the 100th Indianapolis 500 would have an Unser in the field, even if the chances of Unser’s tweets referring to IndyCar aren’t set in stone. But this is a race where between Al Jr. (2), “Big Al” (4) and Bobby Unser (3), the Unser family has nine wins, and where three other family members (Jerry, Johnny and Robby Unser) have started the race.

In total, the Unser family has 74 starts in the ‘500 (Al 27, Al Jr. 19, Bobby 19, Johnny 5, Robby 3, Jerry 1), with at least one Unser in the field nearly every year from 1958 to 2007.

Will these tweets lead to anything more than a “pipe dream” post about “what if” Al Unser III can make a comeback of his own? It remains to be seen. But it would be a hell of a story if it does.

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston: Eli Tomac retakes 450 lead, Hunter Lawrence tops 250s


After his Anaheim 2 crash, Eli Tomac was surprised he was not injured, but despite getting knocked down momentarily, he picked himself up, rode to last week’s win and reascended to the top of the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. This is the third time in three weeks Tomac has topped the rankings.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jason Anderson has back-to-back podiums to his credit and sits second in the Power Rankings. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Last week, Tomac finished second in his heat before winning the Main – and that translated to near-perfect points in the Power Rankings, which award 100 for a win in the feature and 90 for a heat victory. Tomac’s average was marred by the Houston accident when he finished 13th in that heat before settling just outside the top five in overall standings. Racing is about bouncing back and last year’s Supercross and Motocross champion Tomac did just that as he chases a third consecutive title.

Jason Anderson earned his second consecutive podium finish with a third at Houston. He momentarily rolled past Aaron Plessinger into second during a restart following an accident involving Dylan Ferrandis and held that position for four trips around the track until he was tracked down by Chase Sexton. Afterward Anderson faded and finished 12 seconds off the pace, but along with a heat win, he easily leapfrogged Ken Roczen and Cooper Webb, who struggled in the fourth race of the season.

MORE: Eli Tomac rebounds from Anaheim 2 crash with Houston win

Webb held his position by passing Roczen in NBC’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. Webb has been solid in 2023 with a worst moto result of seventh in the first Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2, but in order to be considered a solid challenger to Tomac he needs to win either a heat or main this week in Tampa.

Roczen was involved in the incident that sidelined Ferrandis in Houston. Racing for eighth at the time, his bike may have sustained some damage when Ferrandis landed on his back tire, but he was not overly impressive in his heat either with a fifth-place finish. That was enough to drop him three positions in the standings, but he still has Tomac in sight.

After his disappointing heat in San Diego when he crashed and sustained enough damage to place him last, Sexton has roared back. He won the overall in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown format and narrowed the points’ gap slightly on Tomac. Last week he yarded the field in his heat race and won by a wide margin. A modest start in the Main kept him from getting to Tomac’s back wheel early in the Houston round, and he lost a little ground in the championship.

450 Rankings

Rider Power
1 Eli Tomac
[3 Main; 3 Heats Wins]
85.20 2 1
2 Jason Anderson
[2 Heat Wins]
82.60 4 2
3 Cooper Webb 82.10 3 0
4 Ken Roczen 81.70 1 -3
5 Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat Wins]
80.70 6 1
6 Dylan Ferrandis 71.60 5 -1
7 Aaron Plessinger 71.30 8 1
8 Justin Barcia 70.10 7 -1
9 Justin Cooper 68.00 NA
10 Adam Cianciarulo 67.40 9 -1
11 Joey Savatgy 61.20 10 -1
12 Marvin Musquin 61.00 10 -2
13 Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat Win]
58.75 11 -2
14 Christian Craig 57.20 13 -1
15 Colt Nichols 56.50 14 -1
16 Dean Wilson 49.30 15 -1
17 Justin Hill 39.67 18 1
18 Shane McElrath 36.33 22 4
19 Brandon Scharer 34.00 21 2
20 Logan Karnow 33.33 19 -1

Supercross 450 Points

The 250 East division debuted in Houston and with only one race – and therefore no chance yet to stumble – three of their riders jumped to the top of the chart.

Hunter Lawrence had a perfect week with wins in both his main and heat. It wasn’t without drama, however, as he was forced to jump wide early in the feature to avoid contact with Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut. Without a former 250 champion in the field, it is guaranteed someone new will grace the top of the box at Salt Lake City after the season-ender and it looks like it’s going to be Lawrence’s to lose.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jordon Smith’s last podium before Houston came four years ago in Detroit. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

It was more than four years ago that Jordon Smith scored his last Supercross podium in Detroit. Despite finishing second that afternoon, he was battling a wrist injury that eventually sidelined him. More injuries have followed, but Smith was a favorite to win the title in 2019 and he’s shown how well he can ride when he’s healthy.

Debuting third in the Houston SuperMotocross Power Rankings, Max Anstie moved from the 450 class last year to 250s in 2023 and the change has gone better than he anticipated. Finishing second in both his heat and main, Anstie was edged by Smith because he finished second behind that rider in their heat. That is Anstie’s first top-10 since finishing sixth at Southwick, Massachusetts last year on his 450. In that race, he scored fifth-place results in both motos.

Supercross 250 Points

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his graduation into the 250 class was well deserved and he landed fourth in his division and fifth overall in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings. In his first professional Supercross race, he finished fourth in his heat. In a field with twice the talent, he finished fourth again in the main. At Houston, he balanced aggression with patience. Now that he has a taste of that success, everyone will be watching him closely at Tampa to see if he can continue tiptoeing on the line.

Michael Mosiman, Jeremy Martin, and Vialle are tied for fifth in the 250 East division and seventh overall.

Vialle is the most notable of these three because he challenged for a podium position during the Main before making a mistake and falling in a turn. Significantly, this was not only his 250 debut, but his first time in Supercross. As with Deegan, he has generated a lot of attention for the coming weeks.

250 Rankings

Rider Power
1 Hunter Lawrence – E
[1 Main; 1 Heat Win]
95.00 NA
2 Jordon Smith – E
[1 Heat Win]
90.50 NA
2 Max Anstie – E 90.50 NA
4 Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat Wins]
89.13 1 -3
5 Haiden Deegan – E 81.50 NA
6 Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 2 -4
7 Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 3 -4
7 Michael Mosiman – E 77.00 NA
7 Jeremy Martin – E 77.00 NA
7 Tom Vialle – E 77.00 NA
11 Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat Win]
76.75 4 -7
12 Chance Hymas – E 74.50 -12
13 Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main Win]
73.75 5 -8
14 RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat Wins]
70.00 6 -8
15 Max Vohland – W 69.29 7 -8
16 Cullin Park – E 66.00 NA
17 Chris Blose – E 65.50 NA
18 Derek Kelley – W 63.75 8 -10
19 Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 9 -10
20 Pierce Brown – W 61.29 10 -10

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage