Al Unser

Full Name:
Alfred Unser sr
Born:
29th May 1939 (Age 79)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

The youngest son of 1950s Indycar driver Jerry Unser, Al Unser Sr’s uncles also raced and both elder brother Bobby and his son "Little Al" are multiple winners of the Indianapolis 500. Unser Sr is one of only three men to have won the race on a record four occasions – this family is a racing dynasty.

Family background and early racing career

His brother Jerry Jr was killed while practising at Indianapolis in 1959 but that did not deter Unser from pursuing his own competition career. He began racing in 1957 and impressed in midgets and sprint cars. Second on his debut at the Pikes Peak hillclimb in 1960, he repeated that success two years later.

He won at Pikes Peak in 1964 to end Bobby’s unbroken run of success in the event that dated back to 1958. The younger Unser also made a one-off Indycar appearance at Milwaukee in 1964. Ninth with a Sheraton-Thompson Lola-Ford on his debut at Indianapolis a year later, he won at Pikes Peak again with the hillclimb now officially a round of the USAC National Championship.

Searching for Indycar breakthrough

Al Unser was a "nearly man" for the next two years and his Retzloff Chemical Lola T90-Ford finished second in the 1967 Indianapolis 500 despite a puncture. 1968 was his breakthrough campaign with Unser winning five times in a row to clinch third in the National Championship.

1969 was interrupted by a broken ankle sustained in a motorcycle accident before Indianapolis qualifying. However, he returned in Parnelli Jones’ Lola T152-Ford to finish as runner-up in the championship behind a dominant Mario Andretti.

Success at the start of the 1970s

Having missed the previous year’s race, Unser’s Colt 70-Ford was consistently the quickest car all month at Indianapolis in 1970. He qualified on pole position and led for 190 of the 200 laps on the way to victory. Nine further wins eased Unser to the Indycar title that year as well. 1971 began in similar style with Unser winning five of the opening six races. That included a repeat victory at Indianapolis but he then suffered a run of retirements and faded to fourth in the final championship.

Parnelli introduced its own VPJ1 chassis in 1972 and Andretti joined Unser and Joe Leonard in a three-car "Super Team". Unser only just missed out on a hat-trick of victories at Indy when second behind Mark Donohue but that was his best result of the season.

He won the opening round of 1973 and led at Indy but the mid 1970s proved a relatively fallow period in his Indycar career. He did enjoy some success in Formula 5000 however and his Lola T332-Chevrolet finished third in the 1975 North American F5000 Championship and runner-up a year later.

Chaparral Racing and third Indy 500 win

Third at Indy and runner-up in the National Championship during 1977, Unser left Parnelli to join Jim Hall’s new team for 1978. His First National City-sponsored Lola T500-Cosworth won all three 500 mile races (Indianapolis for a third time, Pocono and Ontario) and Unser finished as championship runner-up behind Penske Racing’s Tom Sneva for a second successive season.

He drove Hall’s new Chaparral 2K-Cosworth in 1979 and won the final race at Phoenix. That was his last race for the team and Unser spent the next three seasons developing the Longhorn chassis without success. His three-year winless streak appeared over at Elkhart Lake in 1982 but Unser ran out of fuel on the last lap and Héctor Rebaque snatched a surprise victory.

Resurgence with Penske Racing

The veteran joined Penske Racing for 1983 and was suddenly back on form. His Penske PC11-Cosworth was second at Indianapolis and won the Cleveland Grand Prix. That was one of 10 top-five finishes as Unser clinched the National Championship for a second time.

Now in his mid-forties, he battled his son "Little Al" Unser for the 1985 title which he snatched by a single point after a crucial pass four laps from the end of the final round in Miami.

Fourth at Indianapolis

Unser semi-retired from the sport and only raced occasionally for Penske during the next two seasons. A late replacement for the injured Danny Ongais at Indianapolis in 1987, he qualified Penske’s year-old March-Cosworth in 20th position and appeared on course for a top-three finish after a steady run. However, the pacesetting Mario Andretti retired with 20 laps to go and Roberto Guerrero stalled in the pits two laps later. Unser sneaked through to win the race for a fourth time – equalling the record held by A.J.Foyt Jr and later matched by Rick Mears.

He continued as an occasional Penske driver and finished third in the 1988 Indianapolis 500. A switch to Patrick Racing in 1990 was an unhappy affair as Unser broke his right thigh, collarbone and five ribs while practising its Lola T90/00-Alfa Romeo at Michigan.

He replaced the injured Nelson Piquet in Team Menard’s Lola T92/00-Buick for the 1992 Indy 500 and finished third once again as his son won the race for the first time. Al Unser retired from the sport in 1994 as the oldest driver to win the Champ Car World Series (when 46 years old) and Indianapolis 500 (47).

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1993 PPG Indycar World Series
Budweiser King Racing
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
32nd 1
1992 PPG Indycar World Series
Team Menard
Marlboro Team Penske
2 0 1 0
0% win rate
16th 15
1991 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
AJ Foyt Enterprises
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1990 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Patrick Racing
1 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1989 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Penske Racing
4 0 0 0
0% win rate
16th 14
1988 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Penske Racing
Vince Granatelli Racing
5 0 1 0
0% win rate
19th 23
1987 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Penske Racing
Vince Granatelli Racing
Porsche Motorsports
5 0 2 1
20% win rate
13th 39
1986 Winston Cup 74th 179
1986 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Penske Racing
5 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1985 IMSA Camel GT Championship
Preston Henn
1 0 1 1 0
1985 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Penske Racing
14 1 6 1
8% win rate
1st 151
1984 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Penske Racing
16 0 2 0
0% win rate
9th 76
1983 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Penske Racing
13 0 6 1
8% win rate
1st 151
1982 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Longhorn Racing
9 (1) 0 2 0
0% win rate
7th 125
1981 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Longhorn Racing
11 0 2 0
0% win rate
10th 90
1980 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Longhorn Racing
12 2 1 0
0% win rate
8th 1153
1980 SCCA Citicorp Can-Am Challenge
Brad Frisselle Racing
1 0 1 1 0
1979 SCCA/CART Indycar Championship
Chaparral Racing
13 1 4 1
8% win rate
5th 2085
1979 USAC National Championship
Chaparral Racing
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
15
1978 International Race Of Champions 1st -
1978 USAC Citicorp Cup National Championship
Chaparral Racing
16 1 4 3
19% win rate
2nd 4031
1977 USAC Citicorp Cup National Championship
Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing
13 1 6 1
8% win rate
2nd 3030
1976 SCCA/USAC F5000 Championship
Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing
5 4 4 1
20% win rate
2nd 112
1976 USAC Citicorp Cup National Championship
Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing
12 1 5 3
25% win rate
4th 3020
1975 SCCA/USAC F5000 Championship
Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing
8 (1) 2 6 1
13% win rate
3rd 161
1975 USAC National Championship
Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing
Sugaripe Prune Racing Team
6 0 0 0
0% win rate
17th 450
1974 SCCA/USAC F5000 Championship
Chuck Jones Racing
2 0 0 0
0% win rate
14th 10
1974 USAC National Championship
Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing
13 1 3 1
8% win rate
4th 2430
1973 USAC National Championship
Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing
14 0 2 1
8% win rate
13th 1080
1972 USAC National Championship
Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing
10 0 2 0
0% win rate
4th 1800
1971 USAC National Championship
Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing
12 1 5 5
42% win rate
4th 2200
1970 USAC National Championship
Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing
18 8 15 10
56% win rate
1st 5130
1969 USAC National Championship
Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing
19 4 9 5
27% win rate
2nd 2630
1968 USAC National Championship
Retzloff Racing Team
Al Unser
28 5 9 5
18% win rate
3rd 2895
1967 USAC National Championship
Mecom Racing Enterprises
20 1 6 0
0% win rate
5th 2505
1966 USAC National Championship
Joe Hunt
Mecom Racing Enterprises
STP Oil Treatment
J Frank Harrison
11 0 4 0
0% win rate
5th 1260
1965 USAC National Championship
J Frank Harrison
Ansted-Thompson Racing
Roger Carsten
13 1 1 1
8% win rate
19th 495
1964 USAC National Championship
JC Agajanian
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0