Racing legend Al Unser, Jr. to be keynote speaker at Pacer Varsity Club event
The annual Pacer Varsity Club dinner will be held on Thursday, April 20th in the Center Stage Showroom at Belterra Casino Resort — and this year promises to get off to a really, really fast start.
It has been announced the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser, Jr. will be the featured speaker for the dinner, which will begin with a meet and greet at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m.
Unser is part of the Royal Family of racing — the son of four-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser, Sr. (1970, 1971, 1978, and 1987), and the nephew of Bobby Unser, who won the Indianapolis 500 in 1968 and 1974.
Ryan Jesop, Pacer football coach and driving force behind the event, has know Unser’s wife, Norma, since childhood — and when the opportunity to get the famous driver for this year’s dinner, plans came together quickly.
“I grew up with his wife. She and I went to church together and went to high school together — she was a year younger than me — and she’s still a very close friend of my first cousin,” Jesop said. “We all lived in Evansville and we were all very tight. She grew up right along with me; and one day about two years ago I was invited to a little reception at a restaurant in Evansville to celebrate their union. I was like ‘okay, she married Al Unser, Jr.’”
Jesop said that Norma Lawrence Unser has run several non-profits in the Indianapolis area; including doing some work for the state’s Republican party, which has brought her to Switzerland County on a couple of other occasions.
“I reached out to her about a year or so ago through Facebook to re-connect with her,” Jesop said. “I just reached out to her and told her what we were doing, and she said my cousin and some of her friends had kind of talked with her about what we were doing, starting football here in Switzerland County, and a lot of the non-profit stuff that we were doing. She was impressed by that. The first time I spoke with her was the same day that The Washington Post story came out (talking about the team helping in the repair of a bridge washed out by the Labor Day flooding).”
Jesop said that the conversation happened while the Unsers were traveling during the racing test season.
“They were actually in Niagara Falls,” Jesop said. “He doesn’t like to fly and she likes to listen to books on tape, so they drive a toy hauler and they drive all over the country together.”
Jesop said that everyone — the Unsers, Belterra, and the school schedule — finally settled on the April 20th date, and now plans are in full swing for another big fundraising event.
Although Al has retired from full time racing, the Unsers are still involved with their own race team, and also lead a foundation called the “Wings & Wheels Foundation”, which aids young and up and coming drivers with some of the expense associated with getting started in auto racing.
The foundation’s website says: “With an eye toward diversity, the Wings & Wheels Foundation helps promising young drivers advance to the next level of achievement in their careers.
“In addition to being highly competitive, the sport of automobile racing can also be extremely expensive. TeamWWF strives to identify young talented drivers and help place them in a supportive environment led by professionals who have achieved a high level of success in the motor racing industry.
“While helping to refine first-class on-track skills, TeamWWF is also dedicated to helping its drivers develop the business and social skills that are necessary for procuring and retaining valuable associations, partnerships, and sponsorships that make motorsports possible.
“Selected by a panel of highly acclaimed drivers and industry professionals TeamWWF recipients will be selected from applicants of diverse backgrounds who demonstrate a high level of sportsmanship, a positive mental attitude, and a competitive personality in addition to their on-track skills.”
Unser is also the Director of Competition for Future Star Racing, which helps race car drivers advance in the industry.
“They also do some stuff through the schools, because they also mentioned giving up some of the race car parts and frames and whatever, and putting them in New York at some underprivileged schools and have them put them together as part of their classes,” Jesop said. “They once they get them done, their sold with his signature on them as a way of raising money for the school.”
Jesop said that he sees a potential collaboration between the Unser’s Foundation and Switzerland County School’s new STEM-driven program once the connector is built between the high school and the middle school.
Jesop said that the event will feature a silent auction and a live auction as it has in the past — noting that the Unsers have offered to donate personalized items for the auctions.
“There will also be opportunities to have Al sign items that night personalized to them; and potentially we may have a VIP race experience at the 500 or the Brickyard or the Grand Prix — one of those races, with Al up in Indianapolis. We’re still working out the details on what they are going to be able to do; but their will be auction items.”
Tickets will be $45 each; with the opportunity available to purchase tables. Jesop said that night will also be a good opportunity for those who want to renew their sponsorship or become a sponsor — noting that this year there will be the opportunity for people to have private sponsorships — giving people the opportunity to support the organization beyond a corporate sponsorship.
Anyone needing more information can contact Jesop or the athletic office at (812) 427-2626.
The Pacer Varsity Club dinner will also include the induction ceremony for the Switzerland County Hall of Fame.
Switzerland County High School Athletic Director Brian Graham said that nominations are now being accepted for potential members of the Class of 2023.
Graham said that if someone is wanting to nominate a past athlete or contributor for possible inclusion in the Hall of Fame, they can contact him at the high school, (812) 427-2626.
The deadline to make nominations is Friday, February 10th.