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Al Unser, Sr.
Innovator, Four-Time Indy 500 Winner
Even in a family full of top-level drivers, Al Unser, Sr., stood out. His calm, measured style behind the wheel of a race car earned him three national championships and a record-tying four trips to Victory Lane at the Indianapolis 500.
A race team is a working combination. If you can't work together, you do not win.
Al Unser, Sr.
About the Innovator
Al Unser, Sr., was born into a racing family. His father, uncles and brothers all raced, and two of them – his Uncle Joe and his oldest brother, Jerry – lost their lives in racing-related accidents. Al learned his craft in open-wheel supermodified cars. While his older brother, Bobby, liked to push a car to its limits, Al favored technique and took a subtler approach to the sport. Al qualified for his first Indianapolis 500 in 1965, finishing ninth. He steadily improved, especially after joining Chief Mechanic George Bignotti and the Vel’s Parnelli Jones racing team in 1968.
Unser made a lasting impression at the 1970 Indianapolis 500, not only with his dominance – he won after leading 190 of 200 laps – but with his car, a vivid blue and yellow Lola sponsored by toymaker Johnny Lightning. Unser won again in 1971, and then a third time seven years later. Subsequent wins at Pocono Raceway and Ontario Motor Speedway gave Unser Indy car’s “triple crown” in that 1978 season. He was without a ride in May 1987 when Team Penske’s Danny Ongais crashed into the wall during practice at Indianapolis and, under doctor’s orders, withdrew from the 500. Unser, days away from his 48th birthday, took Ongais’s place – and then took the race, becoming the oldest Indy 500 winner and only the second driver to earn four victories.
Unser retired from competitive driving in 1994 with a record that included 39 wins in National Championship races and three national titles. He also earned two victories at Pikes Peak and an IROC championship. “Big Al” had the additional satisfaction of seeing his son, Al Unser, Jr., win two Indy 500 victories of his own.
Why He Innovates
Al Unser, Sr., was quick to adopt – and often win with – innovative engine designs. He was the first to win the Indianapolis 500 with the Cosworth DFX, and among the first to race with exotic engines from Porsche and Alfa Romeo. Unser thrived on the experimentation that characterized Indy racing in the 1960s and 1970s.