HOUSTON (Dec. 10, 2021) Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser passed away on December 9th after a valiant and hard-fought battle with cancer. Unser, the first driver to tie A.J. Foyt as a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1987, had a long friendship with the famed Texan dating back to 1965.
“I was really sorry to hear about Al Unser,” Foyt, 86, said. “We were able to catch up in July at the 4-time winners deal [photo shoot] we did at Indy and I’m glad for that. I always thought a lot of Al, even when he first came to Indy. That’s why I was happy to give him his first ride there. He was a nice person and well-respected because he was a cool, smart race driver. Always knew what he was doing, knew how to take care of a car. He was very smart and when he was winning you had to be because racing was a lot more dangerous back then. I always had a lot of respect for Al. It’s a sad day.”
Foyt gave Unser his first ride at Indy when the car Unser had suffered several engine problems. It was a favor that Unser never forgot, especially because it came at a time when Foyt was the defending 500 champion after winning for a second time in 1964. Foyt explained to Unser that the car had a problem with handling but told him he thought it would qualify and Unser did qualify it.
Foyt also teamed with Al in 1985 (and Bob Wollek and Thierry Boutsen) to win the 24 Hours of Daytona in Preston Henn’s Porsche 962. They teamed again in 1987 (along with Danny Sullivan) when Foyt entered his own Porsche 962. Of that experience, Foyt said, “We were leading when we had electrical problems and dropped out near the end. I remember George Snider was mad cause he said he stayed up all night (working on the crew) only to have us break at the end.” In 1991, Foyt tapped Unser to replace him at Phoenix in the No. 14 Lola/Chevrolet after Foyt broke his shoulder in practice.
Unser and Foyt chat during the day long photo shoot at Indy in July. It was the last time Foyt saw his friend.
Unser and Rick Mears journeyed to Foyt’s shop outside Houston in November 2012 for the 2013 Indy 500 program cover shoot. The three 500 winners spent the day reminiscing and all agreed it was a very special time for each of them.