At this year’s PRI show, the organizers asked the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum to present a special display celebrating one of the truly iconic families in auto racing history — the Unser Family. Appropriately called “The Amazing Unsers,” the exhibit honors Bobby Unser, Brother Al Unser, his son Al Unser Jr., and displays the name of their father Jerry Unser.
Jerry Unser Jr. was the first of the Unsers to compete at Indianapolis. In his only start, in 1958, he was caught up in a 13-car pileup on the first lap and flew over the turn-three wall, miraculously emerging unhurt. The following year, he perished in a crash during practice for the 1959 Indianapolis 500.
The other three Unser’s collaboratively won nine Indianapolis 500s. In total, the family claimed more than 100 Indy car victories and seven Indy car titles. They have also won close to 40 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb wins.
The display in the Indianapolis Convention Center during the PRI show included Bobby’s 1956 Pikes Peak car. Bobby was following in family’s footsteps by competing in the event. Between 1934 and 1953, uncle Louis Unser was the king of the hill, winning the “Race to the Clouds” nine times. Bobby entered in a home-built Unser chassis, purpose built for the driver. Powered by a 3.8-liter Jaguar XK6 engine, Bobby powered the car to the first of seven wins in this car, and the first of 13 total Pikes Peak victories.
Parked next to Bobby’s Pike Peak car is the 1968 Indianapolis 500 winning Eagle Mark 4 Turbocharged Drake Offenhauser inline four. Bobby turned the first unofficial 170-mph lap at Indy during practice, showing that he was a force to be reckoned with. He qualified the car third fastest at 169.507 mph, putting him on the front row for the start. This would be the first of nine times that Bobby would start the Indy 500 in the front row.
Bobby took the lead for the first time on lap 8, and led most of the first half of the race. When he made his last pit stop, his car was stuck in high gear. As he slowly left his pit, struggling to accelerate back to racing speed, he lost the lead. After a late race restart, the leader broke a fuel pump driveshaft as Bobby swept into the lead. With almost a full-lap lead, Unser cruised the final nine laps to win his first 500.
Next to the 1968 winner was Al Unser Sr.’s Lola T500-01 1978 Indianapolis 500 winner. The Lola T500 was powered by the legendary Cosworth DFX V8 powerplant, and in Al Unser Sr.’s hands, dominated the second half of the race until near disaster. Unser bent the Lola’s front wing during a pit stop in that late stages of the race. The handling of the car dropped off over the final 20 laps as a hard-charging Tom Sneva pushed to catch the slowing car. Sneva ended up 8 seconds short as Unser passed under the checkered flag, earning his third Indianapolis 500 win.
The final car in the display marked the first time that a son raced his father in the great race. Qualifying fifth in the 1983 Indianapolis 500, Al Unser Jr. drove his Eagle 8300 GR4 Turbocharged Cosworth DFX V8 in his first start of the Indianapolis 500. With the race winding down, the rookie, Al Jr., was several laps down, running behind the leader of the race, Al Sr.
It appeared that Al Jr. was intentionally blocking Tom Sneva to aid his father. Eventually, Sneva slipped by both Unsers and pulled away to claim his first and only Indy victory. Al Jr. later admitted to driving a different line to disturb the air in front of Sneva in order to help his dad win the race.