No visit to Albuquerque, N.M. for car enthusiasts would be complete without seeing the Unser Racing Museum. So three intrepid adventurers in town for the LCOC Western National Meet, Carol Higgs, Chris Gray and Elayne Bendel, headed over there and were treated to a marvelous afternoon reliving the exploits of one of auto racing’s premier families.
Four generations of Unsers have plied their magic on racing surfaces as diverse as dirt tracks, Pikes Peak, city streets, drag strips and, of course, the world’s great oval tracks. These include Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Bobby, Al and Al Jr. (Little Al) have won the Memorial Day 500 race classic a combined nine times!
Little Al in 1992 won the closest Indianapolis 500 in history, edging out Scott Goodyear by just 0.043 of a second. This race is captured in a wall painting showing the two cars separated by just about a foot at the finish.
Perhaps less well known, but no less amazing, 8 racing Unsers have won the annual 12.42-mile Pikes Peak International Hill Climb an astounding 39 times! The treacherous road has more than 150 turns and minimal guardrails! It was only fully paved in 2011, but reports indicate paving hasn’t really improved its safety.
We learned all this and more while touring the two buildings comprising the museum. Many of the Unsers’ racing vehicles are on display along with hundreds of their trophies and awards, racing suits, helmets, engines and other gear.
Beautiful and rare antique cars and trucks as well as a NASCAR vehicle driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. also are featured. If you are a fan of Indy pace cars, several of those actually used during the 500 mile race were awarded to winner Al Unser Sr. and are viewable at the museum. Also on display is his “Sunday driver,” a blue replica 1966 Cobra built in 1994 by Excalibur.
Nowadays, Bobby Unser still lives in Albuquerque and Al Unser Sr. makes his home in New Mexico, but Little Al has moved to Indianapolis, where he is mentoring an Indy team. They stop by on occasion to meet with visitors and, according to the very friendly staff, they don’t rope off the majority of the cars so spectators can get a real close look and feel for these special racing machines.
What a great way to spend an afternoon!