Al Unser

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This article is about the automobile racer born in 1939. For other people named Al Unser, including his son and grandson (both of whom are also automobile racers), see Al Unser (disambiguation).
Al Unser, Sr.
AlUnserSr1.jpg
Nationality United States American
Born Alfred Unser
(1939-05-29) May 29, 1939 (age 75)
Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.
Championship titles
1970 USAC National Championship Trail Champion
1983, 1985 PPG Indy Car World Series Champion
Champ Car career
322 race(s) run over 30 year(s)
Years active 1965–1993
Team(s) Longhorn
Penske
Granatelli
Porsche
Foyt
Menard
King
Best champ.
finish
1st: 1970, 1983, 1985
First race 1964 Tony Bettenhausen 200 (Milwaukee)
Last race 1993 Indianapolis 500 (Indy)
First win 1979 Miller High Life (Phoenix)
Last win 1987 Indianapolis 500 (Indy)
Wins Podiums Poles
39 97 28
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career
5 race(s) run over 3 year(s)
First race 1968 Motor Trend 500 (Riverside)
Last race 1986 Winston Western 500 (Riverside)
Wins Top tens Poles
0 3 0

Alfred "Al" Unser (born May 29, 1939) is an American automobile racing driver, the younger brother of fellow racing drivers Jerry and Bobby Unser, and father of Al Unser, Jr.. Now retired, he is the second of three men to have won the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race four times, the fourth of five to have won the race in consecutive years, and won in American Championship Car Racing in 1970, 1983, and 1985. He is the only person to have both a sibling (Bobby) and child (Al Jr.) as fellow Indy 500 winners. Al's nephews Johnny and Robby Unser have also competed in that race.

After his son Al Jr. joined the top circuit in 1983, Unser has generally been known by the retronymic name of "Al Unser, Sr." or "Big Al."

Personal life[edit]

Unser was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the youngest of four brothers. His father Jerry Unser and two uncles, Louis and Joe, were also drivers. Beginning in 1926 they competed in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, an annual road race held in Colorado.

Joe Unser became the first member of the Unser clan to lose his life to the sport, killed while test-driving an FWD Coleman Special on the Denver highway in 1929.

Al's oldest brother Jerry became the first Unser to drive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, qualifying 23rd and finishing 31st in the 1958 Indianapolis 500. However, tragedy struck the next year when he was killed from injuries sustained in a fiery crash during a practice session.

Middle brother Bobby drove in his first Indianapolis 500 in 1963, becoming in 1968 the first member of the family to win, and in 1983 son Al Unser Jr. drove in his first.

Racing career and Indianapolis 500[edit]

He began racing in 1957, at age 18, initially competing primarily in modified roadsters, sprint cars and midgets. In 1965 he raced in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time and finished ninth.

He won the Indy 500 in 1970, two years after his brother, Bobby. During the race, he led for all but 10 of the 200 laps and averaged 155.749 miles per hour (250.654 km/h). His quick pit stops were a factor in the victory. That season he won a record 10 times on oval, road and dirt tracks to capture the United States Auto Club national championship. Unser competed in USAC's Stock Car division in 1967, and was the series Rookie of the Year.

In 1971 he won the Indy 500 again, starting from the fifth position with an average speed of 157.735 mph.

Unser's bid to become the first three-time consecutive Indy 500 champion was thwarted when he finished second to Mark Donohue in the 1972 Indianapolis 500.

Despite starting the 1978 Indianapolis 500 from the fifth position in an FNCTC Chaparral Lola, Unser's car was considered before the race to be a second-tier entry at best, if not an outright long shot to win. Moving to the front of the field for the first time on lap 75, he and opponent Danny Ongais engaged in an on-again off-again duel for 75 more laps, before an engine failure on Ongais' car on lap 150 allowed Unser to assume a commanding 35 second lead. Although suffering right front-wing misalignment due to impacting a tire on his final pit stop, a situation that led to the lead shrinking steadily over the race's final 20 laps, it nevertheless proved wide enough for victory by 9 seconds to spare at the checkered flag. Unser's race average speed of 161.363 mph (259.689 km/h) ranked as the then-second fastest ever run (one mile per hour less than the then-1972 record), and would not itself be topped for second for four more years.

Fourth Indy 500 victory[edit]

Main article: 1987 Indianapolis 500

In 1987, Penske's slate of drivers included Rick Mears, Danny Ongais and Danny Sullivan. Unser was dropped.

Ongais crashed into the wall during the first week of practice, suffering a serious concussion, and was declared unfit to drive. Penske then turned to Unser to fill in. Both the new Penske PC16 race car and its new Chevrolet-Ilmor engine had been unreliable throughout testing, practice and qualifying. Penske elected to race the backup car, a 1986 March-Cosworth, the same combination of chassis and engine that had won the previous four Indy 500s. The year-old March was removed from a Penske Racing display at a Sheraton hotel in the team's hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, and hurriedly prepared for a return to active competition.

At start Unser was in the 20th position. On a day when heavy attrition felled most of the field's front-runners, including the overwhelmingly dominant Newman-Haas entry of Mario Andretti, Unser worked his way steadily forward and took the lead on the 183rd lap, after Roberto Guerrero's car stalled on his final pit stop. Averaging 162.175 mph (260.995 km/h), Unser bested a charging Guerrero by 4.5 seconds to win his fourth Indy 500, only five days before his 48th birthday. In doing so he tied Foyt as the winningest Indy 500 driver and broke brother Bobby's record as the oldest Indy winner.

Unser rode the wave of his fourth Indy victory to secure a ride at Penske for the Michigan 500, Pocono 500, and Marlboro Challenge for 1987. Near the end of the year, Unser had two other starts. He drove as a substitute for Roberto Guerrero at Nazareth, and had a competitive run until crashing a few laps short of the finish. He was then hired to drive the brand new Porsche Indy car at Laguna Seca. The team was still in its infancy, and the car dropped out. Unser left the team after only one race.

In 1988 and 1989, Unser returned to Penske to secure a ride at the three 500-miles races (Indianapolis, Michigan, Pocono).

Retirement[edit]

After reorganization at Team Penske in 1990, Unser was finally crowded out of his part-time ride. With competitive rides filling up, and his career dwindling down, he joined the sub-par Patrick Racing Alfa Romeo team for 1990. After dropping out at Indy, Unser crashed in practice at Michigan and broke his leg. He quit the team after the crash.

He spent most of the month of May 1991 shopping around for a competitive ride. The restrictions on the number of leases to the Chevy Ilmor engine kept him out of a ride during the first week of practice. A last-minute deal with the UNO Granatelli team (where he would be Arie Luyendyk's teammate) fell through when there was not enough time to prepare the car. Instead of jumping into another car "just to make the show," Unser sat out the 1991 race and watched from the sidelines for the first time since 1969.[1]

In 1992, Unser entered the month of May for the second year in a row without a ride. During the first week of practice, Nelson Piquet was involved in a serious crash, and was unable to drive. Unser was hired by Team Menard to fill the position vacated by Piquet. Unser drove to a 3rd place finish, his son Al Unser, Jr. won the race. It was Team Menard's best Indy 500 finish, the best finish ever for the Buick Indy engine, and the first time the Buick engine had gone the entire 500 miles (800 km).

In 1993, driving for King Racing, he led 15 laps to extend his career laps-led record.

A month shy of his 55th birthday, Unser entered the 1994 race with Arizona Motorsports, hoping to qualify for what would be his 28th Indy 500. The team was very underfunded, and Unser had considerable trouble getting the car up to speed. On the first weekend of qualifying, he waved off after a poor qualifying lap. After some minimal practice the following day, he quit the team. He announced his retirement on May 17, 1994.

Career highlights[edit]

Unser has led the most laps of any driver in the history of the Indianapolis 500, at 644. Unser tied Ralph DePalma's long standing record of 612 laps led on the last lap of his 4th victory.

Unser holds the record of being the oldest driver to ever win the 500 at 47 years old (1987), breaking the previous record set by his brother Bobby.

Unser won two 500-mile races at Pocono (in 1976 and 1978) and two more at Ontario (in 1977 and 1978) bringing his total of 500-mile race wins (including four Indianapolis 500s) to eight.

Unser was the 1978 IROC champion. He also competed in the 1968 Daytona 500 and four other NASCAR Winston Cup & Grand National races, all held on road courses with a best finish of fourth (twice).

Awards[edit]

Racing record[edit]

CART results[edit]

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position)

Year Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Rank Points
1979 Chaparral Cars United States
PHX
4
United States
ATL1
6
United States
ATL2
3
United States
INDY
Ret
United States
TRE1
2
United States
TRE2
Ret
United States
MIS1
13
United States
MIS2
3
United States
WGL
5
United States
TRE3
6
United States
ONT
5
United States
MIS3
Ret
United States
ATL3
5
United States
PHX2
1
5th 2085
1980 Longhorn Racing United States
ONT
Ret
United States
INDY
Ret
United States
MIL
Ret
United States
POC
Ret
United States
MDO
Ret
United States
MIS
7
United States
WGL
Ret
United States
MIL
13
United States
ONT2
4
United States
MIS2
5
Mexico
MEX
3
United States
PHX
Ret
8th 1153
1981 Longhorn Racing United States
PHX
Ret
United States
MIL
5
United States
ATL1
6
United States
ATL2
7
United States
MIS
Ret
United States
RIV
Ret
United States
MIL2
5
United States
MIS2
3
United States
WGL
Ret
Mexico
MEX
2
United States
PHX2
Ret
10th 90
1982 Longhorn Racing United States
PHX
Ret
United States
ATL
8
United States
MIL
Ret
United States
CLE
3
United States
MIS
4
United States
MIL2
Wth
United States
POC
Ret
United States
RIV
Ret
United States
ROA
2
United States
MIS2
Ret
United States
PHX2
7th 125
1983 Team Penske United States
ATL
2
United States
INDY
2
United States
MIL
2
United States
CLE
1
United States
MIS
2
United States
ROA
3
United States
POC
11
United States
RIV
11
United States
MDO
4
United States
MIS2
5
United States
CEA
4
United States
LS
Ret
United States
PHX
4
1st 151
1984 Team Penske United States
LBH
Ret
United States
PHX
Ret
United States
INDY
3
United States
MIL
5
United States
POR
Ret
United States
MEA
8
United States
CLE
10
United States
MIS
Ret
United States
ROA
3
United States
POC
8
United States
MDO
8
Canada
SAN
Ret
United States
MIS2
4
United States
PHX2
Ret
United States
LS
6
United States
CEA
Ret
9th 76
1985 Team Penske United States
LBH
5
United States
INDY
4
United States
MIL
United States
POR
4
United States
MEA
3
United States
CLE
3
United States
MIS
2
United States
ROA
7
United States
POC
3
United States
MDO
Ret
Canada
SAN
Ret
United States
MIS2
12
United States
LS
2
United States
PHX
1
United States
MIA
4
1st 151
1986 Team Penske United States
PHX
Ret
United States
LBH
United States
INDY
Ret
United States
MIL
United States
POR
United States
MEA
United States
CLE
Canada
TOR
United States
MIS
Ret
United States
POC
Ret
United States
MDO
Canada
SAN
United States
MIS2
United States
ROA
United States
LS
United States
PHX2
United States
MIA
15
NC 0
1987 Team Penske United States
LBH
United States
PHX
United States
INDY
1
United States
MIL
United States
POR
United States
MEA
United States
CLE
Canada
TOR
United States
MIS
2
United States
POC
Ret
United States
ROA
United States
MDO
United States
MIA
DNS
13th 39
Vince Granatelli Racing United States
NAZ
10
Porsche Motorsports United States
LS
Ret
1988 Team Penske United States
PHX
United States
LBH
United States
INDY
3
United States
MIL
United States
POR
United States
CLE
United States
MIS
9
United States
POC
Ret
United States
MDO
United States
ROA
United States
NAZ
United States
LS
United States
MIA
19th 23
Vince Granatelli Racing Canada
TOR
9
United States
MEA
Ret
1989 Team Penske United States
PHX
United States
LBH
United States
INDY
Ret
United States
MIL
United States
DET
United States
POR
United States
CLE
10
United States
MEA
Canada
TOR
United States
MIS
8
United States
POC
7
United States
MDO
United States
ROA
United States
NAZ
United States
LS
16th 14
1990 Patrick Racing United States
PHX
United States
LBH
United States
INDY
13
United States
MIL
United States
DET
United States
POR
United States
CLE
United States
MEA
Canada
TOR
United States
MIS
DNS
United States
DEN
Canada
VAN
United States
MDO
United States
ROA
United States
NAZ
United States
LS
35th 0
1991 AJ Foyt Enterprises Australia
SRF
United States
LBH
United States
PHX
Ret
United States
INDY
United States
MIL
United States
DET
United States
POR
United States
CLE
United States
MEA
Canada
TOR
United States
MIS
United States
DEN
Canada
VAN
United States
MDO
United States
ROA
United States
NAZ
United States
LS
40th 0
1992 Team Menard Australia
SRF
United States
PHX
United States
LBH
United States
INDY
3
United States
DET
United States
POR
United States
MIL
United States
NHM
Canada
TOR
United States
MIS
United States
CLE
United States
ROA
Canada
VAN
United States
MDO
16th 15
Team Penske United States
NAZ
12
United States
LS
1993 King Racing Australia
SRF
United States
PHX
United States
LBH
United States
INDY
12
United States
MIL
United States
DET
United States
POR
United States
CLE
Canada
TOR
United States
MIS
United States
NHM
United States
ROA
Canada
VAN
United States
MDO
United States
NAZ
United States
LS
33rd 1
1994 Arizona Motorsports Australia
SRF
United States
PHX
United States
LBH
United States
INDY
DNQ
United States
MIL
United States
DET
United States
POR
United States
CLE
Canada
TOR
United States
MIS
United States
MDO
United States
NHM
Canada
VAN
United States
ROA
United States
NAZ
United States
LS
NC

CART career summary[edit]

Year Team Wins Points Championship Finish
1979 Chaparral Racing 1 2085 5th
1980 Longhorn Racing 0 1153 8th
1981 Longhorn Racing 0 90 10th
1982 Longhorn Racing 0 125 7th
1983 Penske Racing 1 151 1st
1984 Penske Racing 0 76 9th
1985 Penske Racing 1 151 1st
1986 Penske Racing 0 0
1987 Penske/Porsche/Granatelli 1 39 13th
1988 Penske/Granatelli 0 22 19th
1989 Penske Racing 0 14 16th
1990 Patrick Racing 0 0
1991 Foyt Racing 0 0
1992 Penske/Menard 0 16 15th
1993 King Motorsports 0 1 32nd
1994 Arizona Motorsports 0 0

2 championships, 4 victories.

Indianapolis 500 results[edit]

Year Chassis Engine Start Finish Reason Out
1965 Lola Ford 32nd 9th
1966 Lotus Ford 32nd 12th Crash
1967 Lola Ford 9th 2nd
1968 Lola Ford 6th 26th Crash
1969 Lola Ford Withdrew due to motorcycle accident
1970 Colt Ford 1st 1st
1971 Colt Ford 5th 1st
1972 Parnelli Offy 19th 2nd
1973 Parnelli Offy 8th 20th Broken piston
1974 Eagle Offy 26th 18th Dropped valve
1975 Eagle Offy 11th 16th Broken connecting rod
1976 Parnelli Cosworth 4th 7th
1977 Parnelli Cosworth 3rd 3rd
1978 Lola Cosworth 5th 1st
1979 Chaparral Cosworth 3rd 22nd Blown transmission
1980 Longhorn Racing Cosworth 9th 27th Dropped cylinder
1981 Longhorn Racing Cosworth 9th 17th
1982 Longhorn Racing Cosworth 16th 5th
1983 Penske Cosworth 7th 2nd
1984 March Cosworth 10th 3rd
1985 March Cosworth 7th 4th
1986 Penske Chevrolet 5th 22nd Handling
1987 March Cosworth 20th 1st
1988 Penske Chevrolet 3rd 3rd
1989 Penske Chevrolet 2nd 24th Clutch failure
1990 March Alfa Romeo 30th 13th
1991 Did not attempt to qualify; entry did not materialize
1992 Lola Buick 22nd 3rd
1993 Lola Chevrolet 23rd 12th
1994 Lola Ford-Cosworth Incomplete qualifying attempt; retired during practice

4 Wins, 1 Pole

Indy 500 qualifying results[edit]

Year Att # Date Time Qual
Day
Car # Laps Qual
Time
Qual
Speed
Rank Start Comment
1967 11 05-13 11 1 5 4 164.594 10 9  
1968 14 05-18 14 1 24 4 167.069 6 6  
1970 11 05-16 11 1 2 4 3:31.4900 170.221 1 1  
1971 9 05-15 9 1 1 4 3:26.1600 174.622 5 5  
1972 4 05-14 14:38 1 4 0 BLOWN ENGINE
1972 32 05-20 11:43 2 4 4 3:16.0600 183.617 13 19  
1973 12 05-12 12:41 1 4 4 3:04.7300 194.879 8 8  
1974 33 05-18 16:56 2 15 4 3:15.7700 183.889 16 26  
1975 13 05-10 12:47 1 4 4 3:14.1200 185.452 13 11  
1976 18 05-15 17:30 1 21 4 3:13.2800 186.258 9 4  
1977 4 05-14 11:29 1 21 4 3:03.7200 195.950 4 3  
1978 17 05-20 13:10 1 2 4 3:03.2300 196.474 7 5  
1979 6 05-13 12:51 1 2 4 3:07.0100 192.503 3 3  
1980 11 05-10 12:19 1 5 4 3:13.0900 186.442 12 9  
1981 6 05-09 16:36 1 88 4 3:06.8000 192.719 14 9  
1982 16 05-15 15:31 1 10 4 3:04.0800 195.567 23 16  
1983 8 05-21 11:44 1 7 4 2:58.2580 201.954 8 7  
1984 7 05-12 12:53 1 2 4 2:56.0900 204.441 10 10  
1985 11 05-11 12:01 1 11 4 2:51.0030 210.523 7 7  
1986 33 05-10 17:53 1 11 4 2:49.5750 212.295 7 5  
1987 45 05-16 12:02 3 25T 4 2:53.5580 207.423 15 20  
1988 9 05-14 12:07 1 1 4 2:47.2350 215.266 3 3  
1989 1 05-14 12:00 1 25 4 2:41.0950 223.471 2 2  
1990 36 05-19 12:54 2 40 4 2:49.7420 212.087 31 30  
1992 32 05-10 17:41 2 27T 4 2:40.8980 223.744 12 22  
1993 12 05-15 11:55 1 80 3 WAVED OFF
1993 33 05-16 12:10 2 80 4 2:45.5530 217.453 32 23  

References[edit]

  1. ^ 1991 Indianapolis 500 Daily Trackside Report - Day 13, Thursday May 16, 1001 (Page D-20)

External links[edit]

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Mario Andretti
USAC National Championship Trail Champion
1970
Succeeded by
Joe Leonard
Preceded by
Rick Mears
CART IndyCar Series Champion
1983
Succeeded by
Mario Andretti
Preceded by
Mario Andretti
CART IndyCar Series Champion
1985
Succeeded by
Bobby Rahal
Preceded by
A.J. Foyt
International Race of Champions
Champion

IROC V (1978)
Succeeded by
Mario Andretti
Achievements
Preceded by
Mario Andretti
Indianapolis 500
Winner

1970-1971
Succeeded by
Mark Donohue
Preceded by
A. J. Foyt
Indianapolis 500
Winner

1978
Succeeded by
Rick Mears
Preceded by
Bobby Rahal
Indianapolis 500
Winner

1987
Succeeded by
Rick Mears