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Al Unser Sr.

Joins Penske Racing In 1983

In 1983, Unser joined Penske Racing. That year he posted ten finishes in the top five and claimed his second PPG championship. Two years later, he was pitted in a razor-thin race against his son, Al Jr., for the PPG Cup. In the end, father edged son by a single point, 151-150, to win the 1985 PPG Cup, earning for Al Sr. his second title in three years. Unser Sr. had only one victory and one pole, but his consistency saw him through, as it had in 1983. In his other thirteen starts, he placed in the top five nine times. However, he still needed a strong final run to take the cup. He closed the season with a runner-up finish at Laguna Seca, a victory from the pole at Phoenix, and a fourth-place showing at Phoenix. In the same three races, Al Jr. finished third, second, and third, respectively.

In 1987, at the age of 47, Unser won his fourth and final Indy 500 in a race he only got into at the last minute when Danny Ongais crashed during a practice run and wasn't healthy enough to race. He raced to victory 4.496 seconds ahead of runner-up Roberto Guerrero with an average speed of 162.175 miles per hour. Son Al Jr., who finished fourth, told ESPN: "It means everything to Dad. They called him retired and washed up and all that. He's far from that. I've got goose bumps. I'm ecstatic for Dad."


1939 Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on May 29
1957 Begins driving modified roadsters in competition around Albuquerque
1958 Marries Wanda Jesperson on April 22 (divorced in 1971)
1959 Older brother Jerry dies as a result of injuries suffered in practice run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 2
1977 Marries Karen Barnes on November 22
1979 Breaks ankle in a motorcycle accident, forcing him to miss Indy 500
1983 Joins Penske Racing
1994 Retires from auto racing
2002 Invests $1.5 million, with son Al Jr, to build an auto museum in Albuquerque

Related Biography: Racecar Driver Jerry Unser

More than any other family in auto racing history, the Unsers have dominated the Indianapolis 500. Unsers have competed in the Indy 500 about 70 times, and family members have won the race a total of nine times—four wins by Al Unser Sr., three wins by his older brother, Bobby, and two by his son, Al Jr. The first Unser to launch an assault on the legendary Brickyard in Indianapolis was Jerry Unser, older brother of both Bobby and Al Sr., and twin brother of Louie, who suffers from multiple sclerosis but works as an auto mechanic.

Jerry Unser was born on November 15, 1932, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Although Jerry was the first Unser to seek glory at the Indy, he never managed to complete a full lap. In his 1958 debut at the Brickyard, Jerry became extricated in a massive accident and was catapulted over the wall on his very first lap. The following year he returned but was severely injured in a practice run on May 2. Fifteen days later, Jerry succumbed to injuries sustained in that accident.

Before deciding to race at Indy, Jerry raced stock cars for a few years and in 1956 he was the national stock car champion. He and wife Jeanie had two sons, Jerry, who was born June 10, 1957, and Johnny, born October 22, 1958.

Unser retired to Albuquerque in 1994 but has not strayed far from racing. Unser, along with Johnny Rutherford, who also retired in 1994, offers his expertise to aspiring race car drivers as a staff member of the Indy Racing League as coach and consultant. Some of the new drivers see him as a dinosaur who couldn't possibly help them, Unser told Hank Kurz Jr. of the Associated Press. But "I tell them in 1992 and 1993, I was still running 230 miles an hour around the speedway. That wakes them up." Another passion of Unser's is shared with son, Al Jr. The two have committed $1.5 million of their own money to building an auto museum on family land in Albuquerque. Father and son have set up a non-profit foundation to raise more money for the planned 50,000-square-foot center on a twelve-acre site.

One of the greatest auto racers of all time, Unser stands as an inspiration for aspiring racers everywhere and especially for other members of the Unser clan who remain active in racing. This latter group includes his son, Al Jr., and nephews, Johnny and Robby Unser. Only Unser Sr., Foyt, and Rick Mears have managed to take four checkered flags at Indy, an incredible feat for a racer of any age, but made all the remarkable for Unser, who posted his final win at the Brickyard at the age of 47. Unser, who was active in racing across four decades, has been enshrined in both the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (1991) and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1998) in honor of his unique contributions to the sport.

Awards and Accomplishments

1960 Finished second to brother Bobby at Pike's Peak Hillclimb
1964 Made Indy car debut at Milwaukee and won Pikes Peak Hillclimb
1965 Finished ninth in first Indy 500 and won Pikes Peak Hillclimb
1967 Finished second at Indy 500 and named USAC Rookie of the Year
1968 Won five races in a row and grabbed five poles
1970 Won first Indy 500 and nine other races; named Driver of the Year
1971 Indy 500 win
1977 Won Indy car races at Pocono, Milwaukee, and Phoenix
1978 Took "Indy Car Triple Crown" with wins at Indy 500, Pocono, and Ontario; named Driver of the Year
1987 Fourth Indy 500 win
1991 Inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America
1998 Inducted into International Motorsports Hall of Fame

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Famous Sports StarsAuto RacingAl Unser Sr. Biography - Born In Albuquerque, New Mexico, Finishes Second In Indy 500 Of 1967, Joins Penske Racing In 1983 - CONTACT INFORMATION