Friday, February 14, 2014
The Unser Racing Museum
With apologies to Don Wildman of the television series Mysteries at the Museum, we return to the spring of 1987:
“For the 1987 season, Penske Racing cut Al Unser, Sr., opting instead to employ the services of Danny Ongais. Unser had come to Indy in May expecting to get a ride with a new team. But when the deal fell through, the 47-year-old veteran was left walking the garage area like so many other jobless drivers.
“Then, when Danny Ongais wrecked one of Roger Penske's Ilmore-Chevrolet-powered cars during practice May 7, suffering a concussion that put him out of the 500, Roger Penske once again turned to Al Sr. for help.
“With the primary car destroyed, Penske Racing scrambled to produce a backup car, ultimately pulling a 1986 March Cosworth Indy Car from a display at the Sheraton Hotel in Reading, Pennsylvania. With little time and insufficient funding to prepare the year-old car, few at Penske expected much from Al Sr., but all knew that the veteran driver would take his best shot at winning the race.
This car and driver stand as reminders to be ready to answer the door when opportunity knocks.
The Unser Racing Museum chronicles the racing history of the Unser family.
Immigrating from Switzerland, their father Louis and mother Marie eventually settled in Colorado Springs, raising a family by the nearby mountain Pike's Peak. In September of 1915, Louis rode a motorcycle and sidecar to the summit of Pike's Peak, a mountain previously declared to be unscalable.
In 1916 a mineral tycoon named Spencer Penrose completed a dirt road to the summit—the highest thoroughfare in the world at the time—and decided to celebrate his achievement with a race. Thus began the Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb, the country's second-oldest motor race after the Indianapolis 500 (first run in 1911). The course—12.42 miles long and rising 4,708 feet from its starting point, more than halfway up the mountain—contains 156 turns, some hanging over nearly sheer drops of hundreds of feet. None of the turns are protected by guardrails, or even by dirt curbs.
Pikes Peak is also known as Unser Mountain. In the 50 climbs that have been held since Louis Unser first won, in 1934, seven Unsers have won 30 class championships. Three-time Indy winner Bobby Unser, Louis's nephew, leads the clan in Pikes Peak victories with 13.
In the International Race of Champtions (IROC), drivers from a broad range of racing disciplines raced identically-prepared stock cars set up by a single team of mechanics in an effort to make the race purely a test of driver ability. The last non-NASCAR champion of the series was Al Unser, Jr. in 1988.
Other displays in the museum showed some engines,
and quilts. Jeanetta Holder, of Avon, Indiana, has been making a quilt for the winner of the 500 every year for over 30 years. As the drivers arrive for the preparations for the Indy 500, she obtains their autographs on quilt squares, embroiders the signatures, and puts the finishing touches on the quilt, which is presented to the winner at the post-race banquet. The Unsers have four of her quilts on display.
There is still one more room in the museum.