Unser Family The Best Ever At Indy

Al Unser Jr. became the third member of the Unser family to win the Indianapolis 500 when he won the race for the first time in 1992. He added a second victory in 1994 to bring the number of Indianapolis 500 victories for the Unser family to nine. (IMS Archive Photo)

“We were hoping to run in the top five because as far back as I was starting and a second weekend qualifier with a year-old car we knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Unser said. “Penske puts a good car up for you. He wants to win that race. That is a must to him. He had three cars entered and he figured that all three of us could win that race and we could have – Mears could have, Danny Sullivan could have and I did.

“It was another one of those days where it was my turn.”

His son knew it was his father’s day in a most improbable way.

“I realized Dad was going to win that race when he was lapping me during the race,” Al Unser, Jr. said. “He and Roberto Guerrero were the ones of the race after Mario dropped out. Dad was waving at me when he lapped me.”

That would be the last victory for that generation of Unsers but the new generation was ready to shine when Al Unser, Jr. won in 1992 for Galles Racing and again in 1997 for Marlboro Team Penske.

When “Little Al” drove to victory lane during that cold, brutal 1992 race he broke out into tears and told ABC’s Jack Arute, “You just don’t know what Indy means.” That comment best exemplifies what this races means to the Unser Family.

“When I realized what Indy was was all the years that I didn’t win,” Al Unser, Jr. said. “It was the 10th year that I finally won the 500. It took me 10 years to win there. Honestly, I never thought I was going to win it because of what we talked about earlier. There are great race car drivers that win all over the country and then don’t win at the Speedway. You have to be chosen. It’s either your day or it’s not your day. That was what that was all about.

“For me the 500 meant life to me. I put so much emphasis on the Indy 500. I raced other races and all those places to be a better driver at the 500. When I won it was dreams come true. It was a dream come true for me. It was huge. It was hard to describe into words what it really meant with the pressures of Uncle Bobby and Dad and the whole racing world I just wanted to win it really, really bad. When we did it was huge.”

A family of fortune began with such unfortunate beginnings, however. Before the Unsers could experience tremendous joy they had to suffer bitter personal loss.

“The Speedway could have kicked my butt and finished me like my brother Jerry,” Bobby admitted. “If I had not gotten my foot in the door Al may not have had a chance. Indianapolis was always good to us. It offered opportunity and then we had to work on it and make it work. Then Little Al came along and if it hadn’t been for his personal problems he could have won the most of them all.”

While Al Unser is a man of few words, the same cannot be said of Bobby. But even he has a hard time properly explaining the family’s success at Indianapolis.

“If the Good Lord hadn’t said these things were going to happen there was no logical way you could predict these things would happen,” Bobby Unser said. “The end result is nine wins – nine wins! That’s unheard of.

“One of the biggest things that ever happened was one family winning the Indianapolis 500 nine times. That’s what made the Unser Family what we were.”