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Celebrating the Fourth of July — and Al Unser Jr.

I had already planned to write this week’s column about celebrating the Fourth of July, complete with fireworks photos, but I was further inspired to do so by an optimistic and ultimately uplifting episode of “The Dale Jr. Download,” on NBC’s “Peacock” streaming service.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the 2022 Busch Light CLASH at the L.A. Coliseum

In that episode, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his co-host interviewed Al Unser Jr., two-time Indy 500 winner and a member of racing’s Unser dynasty. As a lifelong fan of auto racing, I had followed Al Jr.’s career for a long time — certainly from the start of his participation as a driver in IndyCar racing. I loved watching him race against Michael Andretti and, as I watched on T.V., I shared with him his overwhelming elation when, in 1992, he beat Scott Goodyear in the closest Indy 500 finish ever (0.043 of a second margin of victory).

It should, therefore, not come as a surprise to you that I was similarly elated when I found myself sharing a racetrack at the Goodguys Del Mar Nationals Autocross with Al Unser Jr. in 2016 — he in his car and me in my Mustang — as described in “AutoMatters & More” #431: https://automatters.net/autocross-with-the-unsers-at-the-goodguys-del-mar-nationals/. I doubt that he would remember the moment when he gave me an encouraging thumbs-up while we waited in our respective cars in the staging area, about to take our autocross runs, but that image will forever be indelibly etched in my mind. It is proof that even the smallest of kind gestures can have a tremendous impact on other’s lives.

Al Unser Jr. about to start a run on the 2016 Goodguys Del Mar Nationals autocross course
Reflection of me staging in my Mustang for my autocross run
Al Unser Jr. racing in the 2009 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (April 18)
Al Unser Jr. racing in the 2009 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (April 18)
Al Unser Jr. racing in the 2009 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (April 18)
Al Unser Jr. — WINNER of the 2009 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (April 18)

However, there was a dark side to Al Unser Jr.’s life that I had not known much about before watching his interview on “The Dale Jr. Download.” In that interview, Al Jr. revealed that part of the story of his life, as told in his book “Al Unser Jr.: A Checkered Past” (https://octanepress.com/book/al-unser-jr-checkered-past).

I have not read that book, although I would like to do so — if and when I ever get caught up with posting my published columns to my https://automatters.net website. I am over a month behind, thanks to my steadfast intention to not do so until I have edited a lot of my photos and some video for each of them.

Little Al’s story is inspirational. His struggle is ongoing to this day, but he realized that one way to heal, and to help forgive himself for things that he had done in his life that he is not proud of, is to try to help others. His story, as told in his book, reminded me that we should work every day to overcome whatever adversities might be in our lives. It is never too late to do so. We cannot change the past but we can strive to do better going forward.

I hope that you enjoy your special moments, as I did on my Fourth of July long weekend.

“Electric Ocean” at SeaWorld San Diego

Originally, I had planned to celebrate the holiday at Disneyland, for which I’d made a reservation months earlier. However, on the morning of the Fourth I was exhausted. I’d been trying to do too much for too long. The prospect of driving from San Diego to Anaheim and back, on a major holiday, and standing for hours in order to hopefully get a decent view of the fireworks from Main Street USA, was just not worth the effort — especially when there is frequently a risk that the fireworks might be cancelled at the last minute due to the presence of high-altitude wind. Making things worse, Disneyland does not allow the use of any folding chairs, and at 68 I really cannot sit on the pavement for hours. I did not go, despite the penalty for a “no-show” for my Disneyland reservation.

Instead, I made a last-minute decision to try to see San Diego’s “Big Bay Boom” Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza. The only other time that I had tried to do so was on the Fourth of July in 2012. That year, however, it became nicknamed the “Big Bay Bust,” when a computer glitch caused all of the fireworks to go off all at once, in a massive explosion, before the scheduled 9:00 PM start of the show. That made the national news.

San Diego’s Big Bay Bust on July 4, 2012 — when all of the fireworks accidentally went off in one massive explosion

As you can see from these pictures, this year everything came together. Happy Fourth of July!

Jan ready to shoot the 2022 Big Bay Boom Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza over San Diego Bay

Copyright © 2022 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #749r1

Jan Wagner

2 Comments

  1. David Sperry on July 10, 2022 at 1:20 am

    Jan, you made a wise decision in attending the San Diego Bay Big Boom instead of traveling to Disneyland. The atmosphere at the Bay looks very festive and I’m sure everyone had a good time. I’m very impressed with your new camera equipment in the selfie. Two tripods of gear no less. How much does all that weigh? And a great retelling of your encounter with Al Unser Jr. I remember that Indy 500 race with Scott Goodyear like it was yesterday. Great photos throughout. If I recall properly, Scott Goodyear finished second at the 500 twice…the other time to Jacques Villeneuve.

    • Jan Wagner on July 10, 2022 at 9:38 am

      As always David, thank you for your insightful and encouraging comments. They inspire me to keep doing the work.
      My last-minute, same day decision to not keep my reservation at Disneyland but instead try to go to the Big Bay Boom was, in 20-20 hindsight, the absolutely correct decision — even though it cost me a warning email from Disney telling me that two more no-shows within the following 90 day period will result in the suspension of my very expensive annual pass to make a required Park reservation for a month.
      Where do I begin? Well, for starters I saved having to drive 1-1/2 hours each way to Disneyland — and thus the expense of the required gasoline and being tired on the long, dark, solitary drive home.
      Second, Disney rules would most certainly have prohibited me from bringing a chair on which to sit for hours, in order to stake out a hopefully decent viewing location for the fireworks. Between the adjacent trees blocking the view, and the massive, shoulder-to-shoulder crowds at fireworks time, it is almost impossible to actually get an unobstructed view for the full duration of the fireworks — and that assumes that someone in front of you does not put their little kid on their shoulders or that someone else does not let their helium balloon float in front of you (both of which have happened to me during previous Disneyland fireworks shows).
      Next, and this is a biggie for me as a photographer, I brought a lot of photo gear to shoot the Big Bay Boom — and a collapsible wagon within which I wheeled my large array of camera gear — as well as my stuffed backpack — the several blocks from my car to the shoreline’s edge of San Diego Bay, where I set it up over about a six-foot-wide area, and had the support of people beside me. I shot time-exposed still photos with one camera, and recorded the whole show on video with the other camera. Disneyland’s very restrictive rules would NEVER have allowed me to do all of that. At best I would have been limited to carrying in one of my professional cameras, perhaps along with a tripod (set to a lower than optimal height), and certainly not much space within which to stand.
      As much as I do still — perhaps inexplicably — enjoy visiting the Disney Parks — Disney management’s onerous, extensive, very restrictive, and rigorously enforced rules and regulations, are sucking much of the joy out of what has become a very expensive, over-crowded Disneyland experience. In stark contrast, SeaWorld San Diego and Universal Studios Hollywood both do a much better job of making it possible for their guests to more fully enjoy their visits. I just renewed my much less expensive and much more convenient annual pass to SeaWorld San Diego. I wish that Universal Studios Hollywood was not so very far away from my home in San Diego — or at least that I had company for the long drive back and forth — or I would get an annual pass for Universal, too. Instead I only visit there infrequently.
      Today I cannot go to any of these places. Instead, I need to get to work posting my other four columns from June — before it is once again time to write next week’s column and cover more events. I need help!
      Jan

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