CHAMA, N.M. — Al Unser, the second man to win the Indianapolis 500 twice, has died. Unser had passed away at his home in Chama, New Mexico late Thursday evening. He was 82.
Unser had been dealing on and off with cancer for the last 17 years. He was preceded in death by his brother, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser, back in May of this year. His oldest brother, Jerry Unser, was killed in Indy 500 practice back in 1959.
“In the 112 years of racing that has taken place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Al Unser’s career stands out among the others,” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles.
Unser was known as “Big Al” to the racing community, even more so after the birth of his son, Al Unser, Jr., who would also go on to win the Indianapolis 500 twice.
The elder Unser had a long career in IndyCar racing that spanned over 30 years and saw him amass 39 wins and three IndyCar Series championships. He also holds the record for most laps led in the Indianapolis 500. He spent 644 revolutions at the front of the pack at IMS.
At 47 years old in 1987 he also became the oldest man to win the Indianapolis 500. It was a race he was not even supposed to be in in the first place. Danny Ongais was set to race the #25 car for Team Penske that year, but Ongais was injured in a practice crash which resulted in a concussion. With Ongais unable to race, team owner Roger Penske convinced Unser (it didn’t take much convincing) to come out of retirement and drive a car that had been sitting in a hotel lobby as a showpiece just a few days prior to Qualifying.
“Al achieved his success competing against many of the best our sport has ever seen, which makes his accomplishments on the track even more impressive,” Boles added. “Al’s combination of his quiet and humble approach outside the car with his fierce competitive spirit and fearlessness talent behind the wheel made him a fan favorite.”
Unser was able to be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier this year for a photo-op with Helio Castroneves, who this year became the fourth man to win the Indianapolis 500 four times. They were joined by other four-time winners AJ Foyt and Rick Mears.
The photo-op would mark the last time Unser stepped foot inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.