THE HOUSE OF UNSER

May 8, 2012

The Unser Racing Museum is a wonderful treat for anyone interested in engines,  fast cars, high-speed thrills and marvelous  race cars of every kind.  The excitement jumps out at you. I’m not a race fan, yet  I  found it to be a  fabulous experience. The museum is not the history of racing, but the history of a family of racers, the Unsers.

You know rather quickly from looking at and hearing about these cars, it takes a lot of money to develop a body and engine  that can compete in the Indianapolis 500. A lot of money. The Unsers did not start out rich. Swiss immigrants, Louie Unser was a butcher but he had a knack for tinkering with engines. Mechanics was what he loved. They settled near Pikes Peak in Colorado and his sons Louis, Joe and Jerry began building race cars and tried to get a car up to the top of Pikes Peak.   Joe was always promising himself he was going to build a car that would make it to the top. The road at the time was dirt. And, he did.

Jerry Unser Sr. inherited his father’s knack for mechanics and opened up a garage in Albuquerque because it was on Route 66, where he knew he could make money.  His kids, his brother’s kids, they were all into racing. at a young age. When they qualified for a race, they competed against each other, or each others records more than the other racers in the game.  Jerry Sr. was constantly putting race cars together from parts he’d acquire. He’d modify and customize them for speed and endurance. When the Indianapolis 500 speedway opened up, big money began funding development of the expensive race cars that are on the track today.

This car was one of the last of the front engine racers. Now all race cars have engines in the back. This one never won a race. And, in racing, it is all about winning because winning brings in the big money. The Unsers, were big winners.

Al Unser pictured with his son, Al Jr. got his big break through a fluke. He was hanging around the track, basically fired when someone got pulled from the race and they needed a driver. He got the shot and won the Indy for the first time. His son, Little Al, like most of the Unsers, started out on go-karts and raced as long as they could keep up their grades. He’d bring his son to the track and they’d refuse to let him in because he was too young. He’d have to prove that Little Al was on the racing ticket to get him through the gates.

The four brothers, Al, Bobby, Louis and Jerry Jr. were successful competitors in racing circles. Jerry died in a fiery crash in his second attempt at the Indy 500.  Now, their kids are racing.

Another Jeri Unser has put herself at risk on the track. Not the first female, but one of the few women in the field.

And 800 pound car you can pull around with one hand, so perfectly balanced and easy to handle. The floor in the museum, by the way, is made of ground up tires.

I couldn’t help but notice the difference in tires, and they make a big difference in the race. The rubber is as thin as a credit card. The driver wants those tires to heat up to about 200 degrees to make them sticky so they grip the road. It seems to me it would also slow them down, but, what do I know?  Our docent was knowledgeable and told us many stories about the cars development and racing experiences. This was very much a family museum.

This pace car was driven by five different drivers that each won their race in it. It was like a mystery. No one could figure out why this car always won races.

Could it have been the tires?

I won’t pretend to know anything about mechanics, but I found it fascinating. These “spokes” or maybe they are shocks, resemble airplane wheels. Some cars have fins which is designed to keep the car from sliding sideways.

I saw only one rear-view mirror on a race car, mounted so close to the tire it didn’t look like it belonged there.

One section of the museum has a small collection of old cars like this Phaeton, and a room full of trophys. These trophies and qualifying rings, shirts, racing uniforms et al.  Another salute to the generations of Unsers who raced to the top and the big money.

Jerry Unser Jr.  once hit this wall and during the Indy 500 remodel, they gave a section of the old wall to the Museum. It is called the Milliion Dollar wall.  I enjoyed the  fabulous story and a fabulous museum.

On the way home we stopped at the Chauma River brewery for cool one. I like dark stouts and porters and when I go to a microbrewery, I like to hoist one  to Ken and Laurie.

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49 Responses to “THE HOUSE OF UNSER”

  1. My son would absolutely LOVE this place. Me? I’d love the brewery…
    ;)

    • 2gadabout said

      Thank you everybody who stopped by. I hope your son gets to see it someday. It’s a wowzer. The beer, too. I tasted at Marble Brewery in town, but Chama River was better.

  2. go racing, nowwwww….

  3. abichica said

    Really cool cars!!! i love the pictures.. :-D

  4. I grew up in Southern California watching “Little Al” race in Long Beach and the old Riverside Raceway. Saw him run in Phoenix as well. My parents are huge race fans, and I can still remember the roar of the engines and the smell of the fuel from the tracks growing up. Little Al was always, always a favorite.

    These pictures are awesome. Really takes me back a few years. If I’m ever in NM, I’m definitely going to have to visit this museum. It looks like you had a blast. I applaud your choice of brew too. Well done. Well done, indeed. :)

    Thanks for sharing!!

  5. SandySays1 said

    My human says, “My father was in the pits in the 30′s with Don Campbell (I think that’s right) He specialized in working with carburation when there was such a thing. Seeing the pics made me remember I’ve got a bunch of them in a box I need to fish out!” My human is ten days older than dirt so those pics must have moss on them.
    Sandy
    http://www.sandysays1.wordpress.com

  6. SergioC said

    Hi! I’ve this University’s homework… It’s about having a lot of visits on my blog page… Please Help Me Watching It…. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!
    http://www.thebigbangtheoryesp.wordpress.com

  7. lijiujiu said

    Wow. so cool the cars. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Grumpa Joe said

    A very well written photo essay of a racing family. I watched Al Unser race at Road America in the nineteen eighties. What impressed me most was how short he was.

  9. awesome pic’s dude…superb like it very much..

  10. ace maxs said

    good idea and great posting

  11. autofreund said

    Yeah!!! These are REAL cars! Love your post!
    Peace, S

  12. Well done …. and cheers!

  13. nice. would you like to follow me.

  14. Lotto Results said

    Brilliant pictures. Love your post and congratulations on being freshly pressed.

  15. Great photos and story. Congrats on your freshly pressed!

  16. A fascination collection of vehicles. But the best part I think was the pint at the end. Made me thirsty just looking at the dark brew

  17. Novelty said

    I like it! Congratulations for being selected on Freshly Pressed.

  18. Reblogged this on widitarahmah and commented:
    cool

  19. ldsrr91 said

    I found your site interesting and informative, you do a good job. Next time I am out in that area, I will check it out.

    Thanks,

    DS

    • 2gadabout said

      I’m grateful to be retired and have the time to do a blog. It’s been fun and having comments makes it more rewarding. Thanks everyone.

  20. Lowell said

    Thanks for sharing the photos! Cool stories also!

  21. Beautiful report!! Thank you! Congrats on the FP!!

  22. chunter said

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. I miss seeing the Unsers on the track…

    The museum guide may have told you, cold tires don’t stick to asphalt at racing speed. I find it interesting that those tires look very clean. The cars in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway museum have tires that and are worn out and near destruction.

    You are correct that those suspension struts that come out to the wheels were made of aircraft aluminum and often were reshaped to allow airflow (when it is allowed;) they turn the wheels to steer the car. In current cars, these pieces are made of carbon fiber. There are tradeoffs in making racing cars, including drag/downforce, grip, top speed, acceleration, durability, and safety, and all of these are considered when the car is put together and driven.

    • 2gadabout said

      It’s pretty amazing that the Unsers started with just tinkering with auto parts and rose in the ranks to be driving million dollar cars. They are a thing of beauty.

  23. Alyssa said

    Cool cars and great post. Congrats, wordpress featured this on freshly pressed. :)

    —————
    colorado springs divorce lawyers

  24. Reblogged this on facesandplaces by jacob and commented:
    This trip is definitely on my must-do list!

  25. Reblogged this on facesandplaces by jacob and commented:
    This trip is definitely on my must-do list!

  26. C.D. said

    Wow, definitely a place to see, those car are amazing!
    Thank you for sharing,
    Artphalt (http://artphalt.wordpress.com)

  27. sonam said

    You are awesome ! This blog is so great. I really hope more people read this and get what you’re saying, because let me tell you, it is important stuff.

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