Vintage Indy At Road America

Al Unser, Jr. and Mike Lashmett. [Eddie LePine photo]

Al Unser, Jr. and Mike Lashmett. [Eddie LePine photo]

By Eddie LePine

As part of an outstanding weekend of racing at America’s National Park of Speed (known to all of us as Road America), the NTT INDYCAR Series put on an outstanding race in front of what had to be a record crowd at the historic 4-mile Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin track.

The paddock was open to all fans, and they certainly took advantage of that fact, as it seemed like things were back to normal after the very unusual and COVID affected 2020 racing season.

Perfect Chamber of Commerce weather at Road America certainly helped increase the size of the crowd and once on the grounds, the spectators got to experience some of the many improvements made to the facility over the past couple of years. Road America is like a continuing work in progress and every year it seems to make the fan experience even better than the year before.

Of course, in addition to the NTT INDYCAR race, there were many, many other things to keep the attention of the race fans who were filling the Road America grounds. Not the least of which was the appearance of Vintage Indy, presented by Hagerty Motorsports.

The Vintage Indy group, organized and operated by Mike Lashmett, was a fan favorite at Road America. Grand Marshall for the Vintage Indy event, and pace car driver, was none other than legendary driver Al Unser, Jr.

Little Al has amassed quite a career in motorsports. He won the 1992 and 1994 Indy 500, had a total of 329 IndyCar starts, 34 wins and 7 poles in his IndyCar career. In addition, he won the Long Beach Grand Prix 6 times, and was the 1990 and 1994 CART IndyCar Series Champion. But that’s not all. Little Al, who could drive and win in anything with wheels, was also the 1982 CanAm Series Champion, the 1986 and 1987 winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, plus he was the 1986 and 1988 IROC Series Champion. Al Unser, Jr. was elected to the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2009. An amazing driver who is in a class by himself.

I caught up with him in the paddock at Road America before he jumped into the pace car for one of the Vintage Indy sessions. Always gracious, he seemed to enjoy being able to interact with the fans at Road America, and certainly has fond memories of racing here.

“I love this race track. It’s got so much tradition, so much history to it. I consider it the Indianapolis Motor Speedway of road courses in America. It’s the biggest – it’s 4 miles long! It’s the fastest – the straightaways are just so long! It really demands the most out of a driver and a car.”

“I’ve been coming here since 1981 and I’ve seen all the changes they’ve made to the facility, and they have done just a super job of making it what it truly is – the biggest and best road course in America.”

Pointing out some of the cars lining up for their parade laps: “There’s the #6 Olsonite Eagle that Uncle Bobby drove. The history that is in this paddock is amazing. There are roadsters from the 50’s and 60’s – it’s just super cool!”

On Vintage Indy founder Mike Lashmett (who used to be a mechanic for Al Unser, Sr.): “Mike Lashmett has done a great job with Vintage Indy. They run at several tracks during the summer and this year they are going to a new event in Nashville, which is going to be great. Mike has a real passion for IndyCar history and it shows.”

Little Al’s parting advice as he got behind the wheel of the pace car? “Let the fans see these traditional IndyCars and truly enjoy them. I know I certainly do.”

Couldn’t have said it any better, Al.

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