Four-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Sr dies aged 82

Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Sr. has died at the age of 82 following a long illness, Indianapolis Motor Speedway has confirmed.

Four-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Sr dies aged 82

IMS president Doug Boles stated on Friday that Unser had "died peacefully in his beloved Chama [New Mexico] home after a 17-year battle with Cancer."

As part of the Unser dynasty, "Big Al" was a fixture at the Indy 500 for three decades, his 27 starts the third highest number of appearances in history.

He was extremely successful, too, being one of four drivers to join the elite club of four-time winners, which also includes A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and - since this year - Helio Castroneves.

Unser won the great race in 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987, his fourth win making him the oldest-ever winner at 47. It was a race he famously only entered at the last minute as a stand-in for the injured Danny Ongais.

The Albuquerque, New Mexico native led an all-time high of 644 laps at the Speedway.

His team boss between 1983 and 1985, and on a part-time basis in 1986 and 1987, Roger Penske said: “We have lost a true racing legend and a champion on and off the track.

“Al was the quiet leader of the Unser family, a tremendous competitor and one of the greatest drivers to ever race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“From carrying on his family’s winning tradition at Pikes Peak to racing in NASCAR, sports cars, earning championships in IndyCar and IROC and, of course, becoming just the second driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times, Al had an amazing career that spanned nearly 30 years.

Unser won his second of four Indianapolis 500s in 1971

Unser won his second of four Indianapolis 500s in 1971

Photo by: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

“He produced two championships and three wins for our race team, including his memorable victory in the 1987 Indy 500 when he famously qualified and won with a year-old car that was on display in a hotel lobby just a few days before.

“We were honoured to help Al earn a place in history with his fourth Indy victory that day, and he will always be a big part of our Team.

“Our thoughts are with the Unser family as they mourn the loss of a man that was beloved across the racing world and beyond.”

Unser's IndyCar career, which started in 1964, also includes 39 race wins and three championships. He took the USAC title in 1970 after taking 10 wins out of 18 races across its diverse paved oval, road course and dirt oval schedule. He later won the Indycar title twice in 1983 and 1985.

Unser followed in the footsteps of his eldest brother Jerry, who raced in the 1958 Indy 500 but was killed in a practice crash the following year.

He retired ahead of the 1994 Indy 500, when at age 54 he failed to qualify with an underfunded Arizona Motorsports entry. His son Al Unser Jr. would go on to win the race that year.

Unser was inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 1986 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1998.

The news of Unser's passing comes after a true annus horribilis for the Unser dynasty. Unser's elder brother Bobby, himself a three-time winner at Indianapolis and one of the sport's most colourful characters, passed away in May this year aged 87. Bobby's son and Al's nephew Bobby Unser Jr. died six weeks later at the age of 65.

All four members of the four-time Indy 500 winners club: A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves

All four members of the four-time Indy 500 winners club: A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves

Photo by: Chris Owens

IMS president Boles said Unser "achieved his successes competing against many of the best our sport has ever seen, which makes his accomplishments on the track even more impressive.

"Al's combination of his quiet and humble approach outside the car with his fierce competitive spirit and fearless talent behind the wheel, made him a fan favourite.

"He will be remembered as one of the best to ever race at Indianapolis and we will all miss his smile, sense of humor, and his warm, approachable personality.

"Our thought and prayers are with [wife] Susan Unser, the entire Unser family, and all Al's friends and fans."

shares
comments
Karam, Ferrucci join Dreyer & Reinbold for 2022's Indy 500
Previous article

Karam, Ferrucci join Dreyer & Reinbold for 2022's Indy 500

Next article

Al Unser Sr obituary: Four-time Indy 500 winner dies aged 82

Al Unser Sr obituary: Four-time Indy 500 winner dies aged 82
How Ericsson achieved Indy immortality as Ganassi's main man stumbled Plus

How Ericsson achieved Indy immortality as Ganassi's main man stumbled

Chip Ganassi Racing team was strong again in the Indianapolis 500, with poleman Scott Dixon and reigning champion Alex Palou leading almost three quarters of the race between them. But when dominator Dixon was penalised for pitlane speeding, ex-Formula 1 driver Marcus Ericsson stepped up to score the biggest win of his career and seize the IndyCar points lead

IndyCar
May 30, 2022
Ranking the top 10 IndyCar drivers of 2021 Plus

Ranking the top 10 IndyCar drivers of 2021

In an enthralling 2021 IndyCar campaign, the series bounced back from its COVID-19 truncated year prior and Alex Palou defeated both the established order and his fellow young guns to clinch a maiden title. It capped a remarkable season with plenty of standout performers

IndyCar
Nov 21, 2021
How F1's other IndyCar exile finally unlocked his potential Plus

How F1's other IndyCar exile finally unlocked his potential

Romain Grosjean's swashbuckling rookie year in IndyCar captured the imagination of many in 2021. But another ex-Formula 1 driver whose potential was masked by five years of toil in, at best, middling machinery also enjoyed a breakout year in 2021 - winning twice and finishing sixth in points. Here's how Marcus Ericsson finally delivered on his promise

IndyCar
Nov 16, 2021
How Ganassi's relentless new champion outfoxed IndyCar's best Plus

How Ganassi's relentless new champion outfoxed IndyCar's best

IndyCar sophomore Alex Palou stunned by overcoming team-mate Scott Dixon and the rest of a white-hot field in 2021. He was consistently fast and crucially showed a level head, rebounding well from setbacks to put himself in a near unassailable position entering the final round

IndyCar
Nov 4, 2021
Have Harvey and RLL formed IndyCar’s next winning match-up? Plus

Have Harvey and RLL formed IndyCar’s next winning match-up?

Despite appearing to have an IndyCar job for life with Meyer Shank Racing, Jack Harvey’s departure and move to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing sparked plenty of debate. However, Harvey's and RLL's combined strengths could prove to be a winning combination - if they get the balance right

IndyCar
Oct 17, 2021
Remembering Dan Wheldon and his last and most amazing IndyCar win Plus

Remembering Dan Wheldon and his last and most amazing IndyCar win

Saturday 16 October marks the 10th anniversary of Dan Wheldon’s death. David Malsher-Lopez pays tribute, then asks Wheldon’s race engineer from 2011, Todd Malloy, to recall that magical second victory at the Indianapolis 500

IndyCar
Oct 16, 2021
Why Kyle Kirkwood is America's new IndyCar ace-in-waiting Plus

Why Kyle Kirkwood is America's new IndyCar ace-in-waiting

Kyle Kirkwood, the record-setting junior formula driver, sealed the Indy Lights championship last weekend. But despite an absurdly strong junior career and scholarship money, his next move is far from clear

IndyCar
Oct 6, 2021
Why IndyCar title glory is just the start for Ganassi's new star Plus

Why IndyCar title glory is just the start for Ganassi's new star

Newly-crowned IndyCar champion Alex Palou has been lauded as a complete driver and veteran-like in only his second season. The 24-year-old is still in the early days of his career, but the parallels are there for all to see with his six-time champion Chip Ganassi Racing team-mate who has been CGR's team leader since 2014

IndyCar
Sep 28, 2021