Al Unser Sr

29/5/1939 - 9/12/2021

Record updated 13-Dec-21

Alfred "Al" Unser is 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 and won the National Championship in 1970, 1983, and 1985.

Al Unser Sr
Born on May 29, 1939, in Albuquerque, Al, the youngest of four sons. His father Jerry and two uncles, Louis and Joe, were also drivers. He is also the father of Al Unser Jr.

Beginning in 1926 they competed in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, an annual road race held in Colorado, but never made it to Indy.

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

Al's oldest brother Jerry became the first Unser to drive in the Indy 500, finishing 31st in the 1958 race. However, tragedy struck the next year when he was killed from injuries sustained in a fiery crash during practice.

In 1957, at 18, Al Unser Sr. started racing on oval tracks of Albuquerque in modified roadsters, sprint cars and midgets. He also raced the Pike's Peak Hillcllmb for the first time in 1960, finishing second to his brother, Bobby.

His first Indy 500 start came in 1965, and he finished ninth. In 1966 he made his first Indy 500 start, finishing 9th after starting on the back row of the grid. He also won his first "champ car" win at Pikes Peak.

In 1967, Unser finished second to A.J. Foyt at Indy, and also claimed his first pole, at Langhorne. He also raced USAC stocks and was named Rookie of the Year.

In 1968 he won five races in a row, and five pole positions. A broken leg sustained in a motorcycle accident kept him out of Indy in 1969, but he still won five times in 19 starts that year.

In 1970, two years after his brother Bobby won his first Indy 500, Al Sr. won the first of his four Indy 500 victories. Having missed the race in 1969 he dominated the "500" driving the Johnny Lightning Colt/Ford to the pole with a record speed of 170.221 mph, and then in the race he led for all but 10 of the 200 laps and averaged 155.749 miles per hour.

Unser finished 31.8 seconds ahead of runner-up Mark Donohue. At the Victory Banquet the following night, the first million-dollar purse was distributed, $1,000,002.22, with Unser getting a record $271,697.

This win and Bobby's in 1968 made then them only brothers to win at the Brickyard.

1970 also saw Unser earn the first of his three United States Auto Club National Championships in 1970, beating his brother Bobby. He won a record 10 times on oval, road and dirt tracks and took eight pole positions.  He was also named Driver of the Year.

In 1971 starting from the fifth position, he averaged 157.735 to win the Indy 500 again, joining Wilbur Shaw (1939-40), Mauri Rose (1947-48) and Bill Vukovich Sr. (1953-54) as back-to-back winners.

In 1972 he missed out on becoming the first person to win three back to back Indy 500's when he finished second to Mark Donohue.

However after four more wins, Unser then went four years with only a single win at Texas in 1973. However in 1977 he was back in the winners circle with wins at Pocono, Milwaukee and Phoenix.

In 1977, he was second in the Indy-car points and won the IROC championship and in 1978 he took wins at Indy, Pocono and Ontario. He also repeated his IROC championship.

In 1978, Al Sr. started from fifth on the grid in his FNCTC Chaparral Lola. He took the lead on lap 75 and by half distance had opened up a 23-second lead over Danny Ongais. With less than one-third of the race to go, the lead was down to 5.8 seconds. But Ongais' engine blew at the 137.5-mile mark and Unser cruised to victory averaging 161.363 mph to take his third Indy 500 crown.

1979 - Chaparral Racing - 1 win, 2085 points, 5th in championship.

1980 - Longhorn Racing - 1153 points, 8th, best finish: 3rd in championship.

1981 - Longhorn Racing - 90 points (new system), 10th in championship., best finish: 2nd

1982 - Longhorn Racing - 125 points, 7th in championship., best finish: 3rd.

1983 - Penske Racing - 1 win, 151 points, 1st in championship.

1984 - Penske Racing - 76 points, 9th in championship, best finish: 3rd (x2)

1985 - Penske Racing - 1 win, 151 points, 1st in championship.

1986 - Penske Racing - no score

1987 - Penske/Porsche/Granatelli - 1 win, 39 points, 13th. That win came at Indy. Unser qualified in 20th position. But worked his way steadily through the field, taking the lead on the 183rd lap. Averaging 162.175 mph, Unser held off a charging Roberto Guerrero by 4.5 seconds to win his fourth Indy 500 just five days before his 48th birthday. In doing so he tied Foyt as the most successful Indy 500 driver (Mears would join them as a four-time winner in 1991) and broke brother Bobby's record as the oldest Indy winner.

1988 - Penske/Granatelli - 22 points, 19th in championship, best finish: 3rd

1989 - Penske Racing - 14 points, =16th in championship, best finish: 7th

1990 - Patrick Racing - no score

1991 - Foyt Racing - no score

1992 - Penske/Menard - 16 points, 15th in championship, best finish: 3rd

1993 - King Motorsports - 1 point, =32nd in championship, best finish: 12th

1994 - Arizona Motorsports (no starts) . At nearly 55 years of age on May 17, 1994 Unser retired, one day after struggling to qualify for his 28th Indy 500.

As of 2005, Unser has led the most laps of any driver in the history of the Indianapolis 500, at 646.

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.

Indianapolis 500 results

  • 1965 - 9th
  • 1966 - 12th (crash)
  • 1967 - 2nd
  • 1968 - 26th (crash)
  • 1970 - 1st
  • 1971 - 1st
  • 1972 - 2nd
  • 1973 - 20th (piston)
  • 1974 - 18th (valve)
  • 1975 - 16th (connecting rod)
  • 1976 - 7th
  • 1977 - 3rd
  • 1978 - 1st
  • 1979 - 22nd (transmission)
  • 1980 - 27th (cylinder)
  • 1981 - 17th
  • 1982 - 5th
  • 1983 - 2nd
  • 1984 - 3rd
  • 1985 - 4th
  • 1986 - 22nd (handling)
  • 1987 - 1st
  • 1988 - 3rd
  • 1989 - 24th (clutch)
  • 1990 - 13th
  • 1992 - 3rd
  • 1993 - 12th