This morning has been devastating. I woke up to the news that my beloved sister-in-law died last night. Five minutes later I stumbled across the news about Al Unser, Sr. Please forgive me if this seems somewhat random. We have lost one of the best ever.
There is a bit of irony in his passing. Last evening, the newest four time winner, Helio Castroneves, unveiled the ticket for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500. Castroneves was the first back to back winner of the 500 since Unser turned the double in 1970 and 1971.
Unser’s older brother, Bobby, died in May of this year. It is hard to believe that Racing’s First Family has been taken away within seven months.
Al’s driving style was one of patience. I remember many races where he wasn’t even in the conversation until the final stages, but when the checkered flag waved, he saw it first. His fourth win and final 500 was like that. He only got into the 1987 race after Danny Ongais was injured in practice. Roger Penske pulled a show car out of a hotel and Al qualified 20th. He took the lead when Roberto Guerrero stalled in the pits on his final stop and led the rest of the way.
Unser still is the all time lap leader at IMS, with 644 laps at the front of the field. His 39 race wins is sixth on the all time list. Unser is the only driver to win the Triple Crown, the three 500 mile races at Indianapolis, Pocono, and Ontario in the same year, 1978. He won eight different 500 mile races.
I was fortunate to see all four of his Indianapolis 500 wins. I will remember his smooth driving, his taciturn interviews, and his interactions with fans. The last time I saw Al was at the 2018 PRI show. He and his son, Al, Jr., were the keynote speakers at the opening breakfast. They kidded each other and told stories about each other. Someone asked Al Sr. where he learned to drive. Jr. suggested his brother Bobby taught him. I will never forget the look the elder Unser gave him.
Please take some time next time you see A. J. Foyt at a track next year to say hi and thanks. We are quickly losing our legends.