The amazing Al Unser continues to reside at the top, or very near the top, of just about every major statistical category at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Not only is the legendary Unser the second of only three drivers to have won the 500-Mile Race a record four times (A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears being the other two), but Al has led more competitive laps in the” 500” than any other driver.
There are not a great number of drivers who have been able to complete 644 laps during their “500” career. Al Unser has led that many.
There are not a great number of drivers who have enjoyed as many as 11 starts in the Indianapolis 500. Al Unser has placed among the top three that many times, a trio of runner-up finishes and a quartet of thirds to go along with his four historic wins of 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987.
USAC National Champion in 1970 and two-time CART titlist (1983 and 1985), Al won a total of 39 IndyCar events in 14 different seasons between 1965 and 1985. Perhaps his most outstanding year was 1970, the last one in which dirt-track races still counted toward the USAC title. Al won no less than 10 out of 18 races in George Bignotti-wrenched, Johnny Lightning-sponsored machines for Vel Miletich and Parnelli Jones. In addition to earning his first Indianapolis 500 victory, from the pole and by leading 190 of the 200 laps, Al also won on the paved ovals of Trenton, Milwaukee and Phoenix, on the road course at Indianapolis Raceway Park and all five of the 100-milers on dirt. He also came within a handful of laps of winning the inaugural Ontario 500, dropping out while leading only 13 laps from the end.
Another outstanding “Al Unser” year came in 1978 when, driving for Jim Hall, he beat all odds by winning the Indianapolis 500 (his third), the Pocono 500 (his second) and the Ontario 500 (his second) as the only driver to win the “Triple Crown” of all three classic marathons in the same season.
And Unser’s record-tying fourth Indianapolis win came in 1987 in a most unlikely, movie script-type scenario. After Unser waited on the sidelines throughout May for just the right “ride,” he jumped in to replace the injured Danny Ongais at Team Penske, qualified a year-old March (which just days earlier had been serving as a show car in the lobby of a Pennsylvania hotel) and then proceeded to win.
Al also was one of numerous Pikes Peak Hill Climb specialists from the truly amazing Unser clan, winning in 1964 and 1965 and finishing runner-up in 1960 and ’62. Unser also surprised more than a few people by his proficiency on road courses during a couple of seasons with the USAC/SCCA Formula-5000 series. As teammate to Mario Andretti on the Viceroy team, Al finished third in points behind Brian Redman and Mario in 1975, winning at Atlanta and placing second five times. Unser ended up as runner-up to Redman – and ahead of Mario – in 1976 with a win at Riverside and two additional second-place showings.
Further demonstrating his road racing prowess, Unser beat a stellar field in the Can-Am event at the twisting and turning Laguna Seca course in 1980 and shared the winning car in the 1985 24 Hours of Daytona with A.J. Foyt, Bob Wollek and Thierry Boutsen.
A dirt track specialist through and through, Al won the 1973 USAC Dirt Car title, and he continues to be particularly proud of winning the famed Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in four consecutive years (1970-73) and almost pulling off a fifth straight win in 1974, banging wheels with teammate Andretti on the final lap as both made unsuccessful last-ditch attempts to overtake winner-to-be Jackie Howerton.
Champion of the IROC series in 1978, Al also ran USAC stocks for a while, perhaps his biggest of four wins there coming in the 250-mile Governor’s Cup event at Milwaukee in 1971. He even made a few appearances in NASCAR, placing sixth in the 1968 Riverside 500-mile race with a Rudy Hoerr Dodge and then, a month later, driving a Cotton Owens Dodge to fourth in the Daytona 500.
We are truly honored that this legendary champion has agreed to take time away from his very popular Unser Racing Museum in Albuquerque and return for a few days to be with us at his “second home” as Honorary Chief Judge for the 2014 Celebration of Automobiles.