Questions & unsers
“My most satisfying win was the last,”
states Big Al. “i didn’t have a ride and was
in indy just to watch Al Jr. i’d made up my
mind that if i hadn’t found a car with a
good team in the first week, i’d leave.”
When Danny ongais crashed the third
Penske entry in practice, he eliminated
himself and obliterated his PC17-Chevy.
so roger Penske commandeered both
a year-old March-Cosworth 86C which
had been serving as a show car in a hotel
lobby, and Al sr., his series champ from
in 1983 and ’ 85.
Al qualified the “venerable” machine in
20th and in the race, he was in the top
five by half distance. By the time Mario
Andretti’s dominant newman/Haas car
expired, unser was second only to
roberto Guerrero’s Granatelli-run car.
“When [Al’s Penske teammates ]rick
Mears and Danny sullivan dropped out,
roger switched to my pit to call strategy
and brought his crew over, too, so
everything went smoothly. roger made
the call and said, ‘We’re going to pit now
and put the pressure on the leader,
roberto Guerrero, when he pits.’
i pushed the radio button and said ‘ 10-4.’
i mean, who was i to argue with roger?
And it worked. Guerrero stalled and there
was my fourth indy win….
“Like i always say, when it’s your time,
it’s your time. As a driver, you just have to
still be in contention and be fast enough
to take full advantage of that.”
Question: When is an Unser driving a Penske
entry not one of the pre-race favorites to
win the Indy 500? Answer: When it’s 1987.
Guess we should have known better, huh?
CHOOSE A 500...
After Junior won Indy in ’ 94, the 78th “500,”
the Unser family had 11. 5 percent of all
victories at the Speedway! Did Indy serve
you right in terms of the number of wins,
even if they weren’t always the “right” ones?
BOBBY Al has a fabulous record: he got
four wins in 27 starts, but is that all he could
have won? No. I got three from 19. Is that
all I could have won? No, but…we have nine
wins so the good Lord must have blessed us.
AL Of course I feel happy about it, but I don’t
feel the Speedway made the Unsers. People
would say, “Where would you be without
USAC?” and I’d reply, “Where would USAC
be without me and many others?” My point
is, we and our teams had to earn our wins.
We didn’t get gifts from the Speedway, from
USAC, from anyone. We made our own way.
AL JR. I think three times I had the car to
win the race – two years it didn’t happen, one
year, 1994, it did. But the two years I missed
out were partly made up for by my first win,
in 1992, when I didn’t have the car to win
and I won! That made up for 1984, when I
was chasing Rick [Mears] and a waterpipe
broke. Then ’ 94 made up for ’89: Emerson
and I clash in ’ 89 and I end up in the wall; in
’ 94, Emerson’s trying to get away from me
and he crashes! So, overall, I’d say myself
and the Speedway are about square.
Bobby, when Al won his fourth Indy in ’ 87,
was it your usual sibling rivalry you felt that
day, or Unser family pride?
BOBBY I was doing TV up in the booth and
we were on an ad break when I told [Paul]
Page and Bob Goodridge, “Somebody better
start looking: Al’s gonna win this freaking
race and you guys don’t even have him on
the scoreboard!” I had the pit stops figured
out in my head, and I said, “I guarantee you,
[Roberto] Guerrero’s gonna kill his engine in
the pits and Al’s gonna be leading.” Sure
enough, Guerrero comes in the pits and stalls.
Nobody thought Al could win it until then.
Early in the race I didn’t, either, but I sure
picked up on it quicker than the other guys.
How did I feel? I cried, and I don’t do
that very often; I’m a strong man. But that
was a very special day.
(TOP LEFT) Al Jr. at
18 years old in 1980,
having just won in
Super Vee at Phoenix.
Bizarrely, it was the
first and last time he
won at PIR. (TOP
RIGHT) Dan Gurney
and Bobby kept Eagle
at the Indy car
forefront through the
first half of the ’70s.
(ABOVE) Al Jr won
the Toyota GP of Long
Beach a record six
times. This is 1990.
AL UNSER JR.
“1992 made up for 1984;
1994 made up for 1989. So
overall, I’d say myself and
Indy are about square”