Indy 500 record-holder Al Unser Sr passes away

Indycar Racing News

Al Unser Sr, one of only four people to win the Indy 500 four times and member of the Unser racing dynasty, has died aged 82

BROOKLYN, MI - JULY 4: Al Unser, Sr. in the pits before the USAC Champ Car race as part of the unusual Twin Bill for stock and open wheel racers on July 4, 1970 at Michigan International Raceway in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Alvis Upitis/Getty Images)

Unser Sr is one of only four people to have won the Indy 500 four times

Alvis Upitis/Getty Images

Al Unser Sr, one of only four people to have won the Indianapolis 500 four times, has passed away at the age of 82.

The three-time Indycar champion was a member of the famous Unser racing dynasty. His brother Bobby, who passed away earlier this year, was a three-time 500 winner, his other brother Jerry was a USAC Stockcar champion and son Al Unser Jr a two-time CART champion and double 500 winner too.

Unser Sr is in hallowed racing company, sharing his 500 record with AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves. He also holds the record for the most laps led in the Indy 500, at 644.

Born in 1939 and hailing from Albequerque, New Mexico, ‘Big Al’ began his career at the age of 18 racing a variety of machinery including sprint cars and midgets.

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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.

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 1970: Al Unser, Sr. makes the rounds at Phoenix International Raceway during an open wheel Indy Car race. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Unser Sr in 1970, his first IndyCar championship year

ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

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’.

From the archive

Starting in 20th, Unser Sr steadily worked his way up the field as other cars dropped out, taking the lead on lap 183. He would hold onto it to tie with AJ Foyt as the most successful 500 driver, as well as beating his brother Bobby’s record for oldest victor.

After making sporadic Indycar appearances of the next six years, including subbing for the injured Nelson Piquet in ’92 to finish third, he would call it a day in 1993.

The Unser Racing Museum, opened in Albuquerque, remembers the sporting achievements of Unser Sr and his family. Built in the shape of a steering wheel, a central rotating exhibit shows new race cars and artefacts every few months.

The Indycar legend is survived by his wife Karen Sue Barnes, as well as two of his children, Al Jr and Mary, after his third child Deborah was tragically killed in a dune buggy accident in 1982.

Motor Sport extends its condolences to to family, friends and fans of Al Unser Sr.