Questions & unsers
Following Parnelli Jones’ domination
(albeit unsuccessful) of the 1967 indy
500 in the stP Paxton turbine car,
usAC restricted the output of such
engines for ’ 68. But thanks to the
superiority of the Lotus 56’s wedge-shaped aerodynamics, turbine cars
remained the benchmark, a year on.
sheer determination and pace meant
Bobby unser’s eagle-offy was the only
non-turbine car to lead laps (127 of the
200) in the ’ 68 “500” and was ready
to pounce when the Lotuses of Lloyd
ruby and Joe Leonard expired.
“nobody knows they can win at the
speedway until they do it for the first
time,” says Bobby. “After that, the
others don’t become easy, but at least
you know what you’re supposed to do,
what not to screw up at, and how to
better take care of your cars. Before
i ever went to the speedway, i used
to watch the films and wonder, ‘Why
is it from the halfway point that
drivers start wrecking?’
“the truth is, they lost concentration
and forgot to take account of heat and
rubber making the race track more
slippery. so pacing yourself, keeping
mentally sharp even when you’re hot
and tired is vital. Discovering that right
formula for the first time in a 500-mile
race, the most prestigious race in the
world, is what makes your first win a
little bit more special than the others.”
Despite having to nurse the gearbox of his
Leader Cards Eagle-Offy, Bobby Unser was
pretty much the only threat to the Lotus
turbines in ’ 68 and it ultimately paid off.
CHOOSE A 500...
AL Back then, the Indy car championship had
dirt ovals and paved ovals, so front-engined
cars and rear-engined, and I’d often do
stock cars, sprint cars and Indy cars all on
one weekend. USAC often only gave us 15
or 20 minutes of practice, so you had to be
on it from the moment you left the pits.
For that reason, you had to have good
mechanics and ones who were familiar with
you, so they’d set the car up to be right for
you. As far as adapting was concerned, I
didn’t think anything about it; like Bobby
said, we were brought up to just drive
whatever car it was as fast as possible.
By the ’80s, racers were very specialized,
but you were an exception to that, Al.
AL JR. Yeah, it was just the way I was
brought up. Go-karts to sprint cars, sprint
cars to Super Vee, Super Vee to Can-Am
and then to Indy cars. Then, with Indy cars
as my main thing, I expanded to sports cars
and IROC cars. Being able to drive anything
and get the most out of it was fun. If the car
wasn’t working well, adapting to it was a
challenge that brought a lot of satisfaction.
I learned how to feel what the car was doing,
what its limitations were and how to make it
go fast and fulfill whatever potential it had.
How hard was it to not interfere when you
saw “the kid” make the errors of a novice?
AL Many times I didn’t go to his sprint car
races because I didn’t want to tell him what
he’s doing wrong! That would be the worst
thing I could do, adding personal pressure in a
sport where there’s already so much to learn.
Instead I’d call his mechanic, Walter Judge,
to talk about how he did each weekend.
AL JR. Dad applied pressure in a different
way! I had to bring home good grades from
school and then I had to work on the go-kart
myself. If I didn’t do either of those things,
then I didn’t get to race. Simple as that.
TOP LEFT) Al Jr.
after clinching his
second Indy 500 in
the mighty Penske
PC23B; Bobby says
the mid-’60s switch
to rear-engined Indy
cars was “super easy;”
Big Al struggled as
VPJ’s cars fell off the
pace in the mid-’70s;
his second Indy 500
win seemed a long
time ago... (BELOW
LEFT) Bobby’s first
trophy, for winning
the feature at an
Albuquerque dirt track
in 1949. He was 15.