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Al Unser, Sr. was on born May 29, 1939 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is a former American automobile racing driver, the younger brother of Bobby Unser and father of Al Unser, Jr. He is the second of three men to have won the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race four times, the fourth of five to have won the race in consecutive years, and is the only person to have both a sibling, Bobby, and child, Al Jr. as fellow winners. Al's brother Jerry and nephews Johnny and Robby have also competed in the 500.
Al, Sr.'s father Jerry Unser and two uncles, Louis and Joe, were also drivers. Beginning in 1926 they competed in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, an annual road race held in Colorado.Joe Unser became the first member of the Unser clan to lose his life to the sport, killed while test-driving an FWD Coleman Special on the Denver highway in 1929.
Al, Sr.'s oldest brother Jerry became the first Unser to drive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, qualifying 23rd and finishing 31st in the 1958 Indianapolis 500. However, tragedy struck the next year when he was killed from injuries sustained in a fiery crash during a practice session.
Middle brother Bobby drove in his first Indianapolis 500 in 1963, becoming in 1968 the first member of the family to win, and in 1983 son Al Unser Jr. drove in his first.
Al Unser, Sr. began racing in 1957, at age 18, initially competing primarily in modified roadsters, sprint cars and midgets. In 1965 he raced in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time and finished ninth. He won the Indy 500 in 1970, two years after his brother, Bobby. During the race, he led for all but 10 of the 200 laps and averaged 155.749 miles per hour. His quick pit stops were a factor in the victory. That season he won a record 10 times on oval, road and dirt tracks to capture the United States Auto Club national championship. Unser competed in USAC's Stock Car division in 1967, and was the series Rookie of the Year.
In 1971 Al Unser, Sr. won the Indy 500 again, starting from the fifth position with an average speed of 157.735 mph.
Unser's bid to become the first three-time consecutive Indy 500 champion was thwarted when he finished second to Mark Donohue in the 1972 Indianapolis 500. Starting 1978 Indianapolis 500 from 5th position in an FNCTC Chaparral Lola, he was considered a long shot. He took the lead on lap 75 and won following the fortuitous engine failure of challenger Danny Ongais, averaging 161.363 mph.
In 1987, Penske's slate of drivers included Mears, Ongais and Danny Sullivan. Unser was dropped.
Ongais crashed into the wall during the first week of practice, suffering a serious concussion, and was declared unfit to drive. Penske then turned to Unser to fill in. Both the new Penske PC16 race car and its new Chevy-Ilmor engine had been unreliable throughout testing, practice and qualifying. Penske elected to race the backup car, a 1986 March-Cosworth, the same combination of chassis and engine that had won the previous four Indy 500s. The year-old March was removed from a Penske Racing display at a Sheraton hotel in the team's hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, and hurriedly prepared for a return to active competition.
At start Unser was in the 20th position. On a day when heavy attrition felled most of the field's front-runners, including the overwhelmingly dominant Newman-Haas entry of Mario Andretti, Unser worked his way steadily forward and took the lead on the 183rd lap, after Roberto Guerrero's car stalled on his final pit stop. Averaging 162.175 mph, Unser bested a charging Guerrero by 4.5 seconds to win his fourth Indy 500, only five days before his 48th birthday. In doing so he tied Foyt as the winningest Indy 500 driver and broke brother Bobby's record as the oldest Indy winner.
Al Unser, Sr. sat out the 1991 race due to the fact he could not find a competitive ride. He had quit the Alfa Romeo team after 1990. In 1992 Indianapolis 500, Unser entered the month of May for the second year in a row without a ride. During the first weerk of practice, Nelson Piquet was involved in a serious crash, and was unable to drive. Unser was hired by Team Menard to fill the position vacated by Piquet. Unser drove to a 3rd place finish, his son Al Unser, Jr. won the race. It was Team Menard's best Indy 500 finish, the best finish ever for the Buick Indy engine, and the first time the Buick engine had gone the entire 500 miles. In 1993, driving for King Racing, he led 15 laps to extend his career laps-led record.
Unser entered the 1994 race with Arizona Motorsports, hoping to qualify for what would be his 28th Indy 500. The team was very underfunded, and Unser had considerable trouble getting the car up to speed. On the first weekend of qualifying, he waved off after a poor qualifying lap. After some minimal practice the following day, he quit the team. He announced his retirement on May 17, 1994.
Al Unser, Sr. has led the most laps of any driver in the history of the Indianapolis 500, at 644. Unser broke Ralph DePalma's long standing record of 612 laps led on the last lap of his 4th victory. 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.
Unser also won the National Championship in 1970, 1983, and 1985.
Unser was the 1978 IROC champion. He also competed in the 1968 Daytona 500 and four other NASCAR Winston Cup & Grand National races, all held on road courses with a best finish of fourth (twice).
In 1998, Al Unser, Sr. was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. He was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1991.