Al Unser, one of the greatest names in IndyCar history, passed away on Thursday at his New Mexico home. One of four drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 four times, the news was broken on Thursday night by fellow four-time victor Hélio Castroneves before being confirmed by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday. He was 82.
For thirty years, Unser was an icon who made the family name synonymous with American open-wheel racing. He won the Indy 500 in 1970, 1971, 1978, and 1987 as well as the IndyCar World Championship thrice in 1970, 1983, and 1985. Much of his success came with Parnelli Jones as he scored two of his 500 victories and 1970 title for his fellow ex-500 winner, but he also enjoyed strong runs for current IndyCar head Roger Penske‘s team with whom he claimed his last two championships and final 500.
Nicknamed “Big Al”, he also dabbled in other disciplines such as the NASCAR Cup Series, International Race of Champions, and the 24 Hours of Daytona. Unser won the IROC championship in 1977 while he and A.J. Foyt, also a quadruple winner of the 500, joined Thierry Boutsen and Bob Wollek in scoring the 1985 Daytona 24 overall crown.
He retired from driving in 1994, the same year that his son Al Unser Jr. won the 500 on the elder Unser’s 55th birthday. Unser was inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 1986 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1998. In May, he, Foyt, and Rick Mears attended the Indy 500 where they watched Castroneves tie their win record.
“RIP AL SR…you will b missed! Descance em paz AL …vamos sentir sua falta,” read Castroneves’ Instagram post. The Portuguese in the second sentence approximately translates to “Rest in peace Al … we’ll miss you.”
Takuma Sato, twice winner of the 500, tweeted it was an “absolute honor” to attend Unser’s Baby Borg trophy ceremony prior to the 2021 500 which celebrated his 1970 and 1987 triumphs. Sato added Unser’s speech at the function was “very funny and so charming. Huge respect. My deepest condolences to his family.”
The news comes in what has been a difficult year for the Unser and IndyCar families. His older brother Bobby, three-time Indy 500 champion, died in May as did Bobby’s son Bobby Jr. a month later. Legendary announcer Bob Jenkins and acclaimed series journalist Robin Miller both passed in August.