1980sABCHistoryIndy 500Specials

Auto Racing – 1987 – Indy 500 Special – The Historic Al Unser Sr Run To The Finish And His 4th Indy

Alfred “Al” Unser (born May 29, 1939) is an American automobile racing driver….who was the younger brother of fellow racing drivers Jerry and Bobby Unser….and father of Al Unser Jr.  Al Unser is now retired….but still remains the second of three men to have won the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race four times….along with A. J. Foyt and Rick Mears….while being the fourth of five to have won the race in consecutive years….plus he won the National Championship in 1970, 1983, and 1985. He is the only person to have both a sibling (Bobby) and child (Al Jr.) as fellow Indy 500 winners….who coincidentally, all have done so once each for Team Penske….despite all being multiple-time winners. 

After his son Al Jr. joined the top circuit in 1983, Unser has generally been known by the retronymic name of “Al Unser Sr.” or “Big Al.”

In 1987, Penske’s slate of drivers included Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan, and Danny Ongais….as Big Al was dropped from the team and entered the month of May without a ride….so, during the first week of practice, Al Sr. spent much of the week shopping for a ride….with a few offers were made by owners…..which Al Sr. refused….as he insisted on landing a ride in a competitive, well-funded car only.  Unser planned on staying through the week, and if he did not have a ride by the end of the first week of time trials, he was planning to return home. Coincidentally, his son Al Unser Jr….who was driving for Shierson Racing….was having difficulty with his car’s handling. At the end of the first weekend of time trials, Al Jr. surprisingly had not yet qualified….and that is when Al Sr. agreed to stay through the week in order to help his son get his car up to speed.

Danny Ongais crashed into the wall during the first week of practice….and was declared unfit to drive after suffering a serious concussion.  Meanwhile, the Penske team’s new Penske PC-16 chassis had been noncompetitive during practice…. whereby at the end of the first week of practice, Penske parked the PC-16’s….and elected to qualify back-up cars for the race. Mears and Sullivan were provided 1986 March-Ilmor Chevrolet machines….while a third car, a 1986 March-Cosworth, was planned for third driver.

Midway through the second week of practice, Roger Penske consummated a deal with Al Sr. to drive the third car. Penske promised Unser a well-funded effort, and a brand new Cosworth engine….which was the same chassis/engine combination that had won the previous four Indy 500’s. 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….and that is when Al Unser Sr. easily put the car in the field on the third day of time trials….while starting in the # 20 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….as Big Al worked his way steadily forward….and took the lead on the 183rd lap….after Roberto Guerrero’s car stalled on his final pit stop….which was a “pit stop from hell”.  Averaging 162.175 mph (260.995 km/h), 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 A L Foyt for most Indy 500 wins….while breaking brother Bobby’s record as the oldest Indy winner.

Unser rode the wave of his fourth Indy victory to secure a ride at Penske for the Michigan 500, Pocono 500, and Marlboro Challenge for 1987.

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