Legends of the 500: Al Unser

Published On April 16, 2016 » 3452 Views» By Wesley Johnson » Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 43 days to go, we look back at one of the race’s most enduring champions.

More Legends: Dario Franchitti | Helio Castroneves | Bobby Unser | Wilbur ShawMauri Rose | Louis Meyer | Johnny RutherfordMore 100 days

Al Unser, commonly known as “Big Al,” is the winningest of the legendary family that needs no introduction around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Drivers with that last name have won a combined nine out of 99 Indianapolis 500s. Big Al is one of three-four time Indianapolis 500 winners, having won in 1970-71, ’78 and ’87, joining A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears as the only drivers to accomplish the feat. Big Al competed in his first Indy 500 in 1965, finishing ninth, and 22 years later became the oldest driver in 500 history to win at 47 years, 360 days old. He also won Indy car championships in 1970, 1983 and 1985.

The first win, in 1970 in the Johnny Lightning Special.

Unser’s first win came in 1970 in the Johnny Lightning Special.

Big Al is not the only Unser to have claimed the Borg-Warner Trophy. Brother Bobby won the Indy 500 in 1968, ’75 and ’81, while son Al Jr. won a pair of titles in 1992 and 1994. Big Al remained competitive at Indy into his 50s, finishing third at age 52 in 1992 and 12th in 1993 before retiring just prior to the 1994 race. He still holds the record for career laps led in the “500,” at 644.

Though Big Al may not be racing anymore, you can still catch him in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he is the owner and operator of the Unser Racing Museum. Last year, on “Legends Day Honoring Al Unser presented by Firestone,” the legend was feted on the 45th anniversary of his first Indy 500 victory.

After win No. 4, in 1987.

After win No. 4, in 1987.


About The Author

Wesley Johnson

I joined the IMS Communications team in March 2016, two months before the 100th Indy 500. Though born and raised in Indianapolis, I have a background in sports but am new to the racing world. I have interned for the Indiana Sports Corp and Indiana Pacers. I enjoy learning about racing, listening to music, going to the movies and supporting my IUPUI Jaguars.