Unser Sr’s older racing sibling Jerry was killed in a fiery accident at Indianapolis in 1958, but this didn’t deter him from making his Brickyard debut in 1965, finishing ninth.
Five years later, he was the 500 champion. The man from New Mexico completely dominated the race, starting from pole and leading 190 laps.
Taking home $271,697 from a $1,000,002 winner’s prize, which was the first to top $1m. With his brother winning the race two years previously, they became the first duo of brothers to win the 500. Al would also take his first IndyCar championship in the first year.
Al would win the race again the next year, and nearly took a third consecutive victory when he finished second to Mark Donohue in 1972.
In 1978, the Chaparral Lola Al had entered was considered a subpar entry, but when the man he had been fighting with for 75 laps, Danny Ongais, had his engine fail on on the 150th tour, he assumed an unassailable lead to win the classic for a third time.
Moving to the heavyweight Penske team in 1983, he would win the Indycar title again in ’83 and ’85, both times only taking one race victory but using consistency to claim the crown. During the latter season, he would beat his son Al Jr to the title by a single point.
Prior to his famous fourth win in 1987, Unser had been dropped by Penske. Entering the first week of practice for the 500, the New Mexican didn’t even have a drive.
Penske’s Ongais then concussed himself in a heavy crash during practice, meaning Unser Sr was brought back into the fold halfway through the second week of the ‘Month of May’.