Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Unser Racing Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico

         The first thing you see—rotating on a platter like the grand prize on a TV game show—is the 1987 winning Indianapolis (INDY) 500 car.  But the gleaming race cars are only part of the story at the Unser Racing Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  

This winning INDY car is front and center at the museum.
Read the story below to learn of the extraordinary history of this car. 

The museum’s docents are happy to share the rest of the saga—the family history of the remarkable racing Unsers.  In the 1930s Jerry Sr. and Mary Catherine “Mom” Unser moved their young family to Albuquerque where Jerry Sr., an auto racer whose real skill was fixing cars, opened an auto repair shop along newly constructed Route 66.  It wasn’t long before all four of their boys were competing in, and winning, races throughout the western states.

Where it all began.  Al and Bobby's father Jerry, ran a successful
auto repair business in Albuquerque, where the boys developed
their proficiency for auto racing.
Three of the four brothers—Jerry Jr., Bobby and Al—qualified for the Indy 500.  After Jerry Jr. suffered a fatal injury during a practice lap for the 1959 INDY 500 his twin Louie raced for several more years before retiring from racing to follow in his father’s footsteps, becoming an engine repair expert.  At the urging of “Mom” Unser, Al and Bobby continued racing... and the rest is history.  The Unsers have won INDY a combined 9 times, Bobby with three wins, brother Al Sr. with four, and his son Al Jr. capturing two trophies.

Talent sometimes runs in families.  Does your family
possess its own special talent?

        The museum showcases cars from the old Pikes Peak hill climbs, as well as IROC (International Race of Champions) cars.  The INDY cars are the highlight though, and I know you’re wondering about that car on the platter:  No, it wasn’t a game show prize, but it could have been—the car sat idle in a hotel lobby in Reading, Pennsylvania just weeks before the running of the 71st INDY 500.  
Al Unser Sr.—dropped by his sponsors and considered too old for INDY—found himself on the sidelines of the 1987 race.  When the Penske Racing Team’s driver suffered a concussion during a practice run Penske asked Al Sr. to fill in.  For a year he had been itching to drive the March race car sitting on display in Reading, PA and so that particular car was towed to Indianapolis and readied for the race.  Al Sr. would win that competition, becoming at age 47 the oldest INDY winner in history, and driving that hotel lobby car for 500 miles at an average speed of 162 mph.  Even if you’re not a fan of auto racing, can you imagine the concentration and skill required to perform such a feat?  
If you are a racing enthusiast, I highly recommend a visit to the Unser Racing Museum.  In addition to the main building which houses the Pikes Peak, IROC and INDY cars and their history, a newer building is filled with the Unser family trophies, artworks/posters, and car collection. 

You know how every elementary school kid's bedroom is filled with
trophies—just for showing up?  Well, you don't get a trophy just for showing
up at a professional auto race—you actually have to win the thing.
This room is full of trophies from the 200+ auto racing wins
belonging to the Unser family.

One of the posters in the "artwork" room.  I included this photo as a nod to
the short-lived Detroit Grand Prix.  I lived in Detroit for the inaugural run of this race.
Detroit is also the current home of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

Al Unser Jr.'s 1994 winning INDY car is in the museum.
This model, under plexiglass inside the front door, is insured for

The Unser brothers built this museum, and Al Sr. is known to make appearances there on occasion.  Plan your vacation to Albuquerque today, and read more about the Unser Racing Museum here:  http://www.unserracingmuseum.com

The Unser Racing Museum welcomes visitors to sunny Albuquerque.


  1. Hi Rita,

    Thanks for posting this! Although I'm not a race car fan, a family member is very enthusiastic about this sport. I've sent him the link to your blog posting.

    Regardless of whether you're a fan of the sport, or not, this still looks like a very worthwhile venue to visit.


    1. Like you John, I much prefer human-powered sports and activities to motor-powered ones. However, when you live for a time in Detroit the "car thing" does tend to get to you! As a matter of fact it was a Detroit friend who works part-time at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America who recommended the Unser Racing Museum to me. And it did turn out to be an interesting and worthwhile place to visit.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Gosh, I remember the days when Al Unser was winning Indy - a hero to many of my school friends.

    I recently had the opportunity to visit the Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angeles and was truly wow'ed by the experience - it's intriguing how much cars are a part of our lives and this trip of yours looks like a great way to spend an afternoon in Albuquerque!

    Did you get to try any of the racing cars??!

    1. Hi Vickie,

      Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) visitors to the Unser Museum don't get to try out the race cars! However, there is an INDY simulator—you can sit down and try to race five laps of the INDY 500. I didn't try the simulator due to my extreme motion sickness, but I saw someone doing it and it looked like they were crashing into the wall about every 100 yards or so!

      I'll have to put the Petersen Auto Museum on my list of places to visit the next time I'm in LA.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. I've visited Albuquerque several times and had no idea this museum existed. I'm not especially interested in racing, but some of my loved ones are, and I tend to like museums of any type. I especially enjoyed your sentence about the number of trophies we can collect these days just for showing up as opposed to what the Unsers did. Interesting post.

  4. Hi Janet,

    I'm glad you enjoyed my comment about the trophies. I noticed this trophy madness while assisting in a second grade classroom. One day I held a little spelling contest with only three prizes. One of the girls in the class—who did NOT win—angrily demanded a prize because, in her words: "It's not fair! Everyone should get a prize, just for trying!". Oh my.
    Anyway, if you're not a racing fan but you like museums, I think you would appreciate the story of the Unser family; it's as interesting as the information on racing and cars.
    Thanks for commenting!

  5. Reminds me of Pat Moss ..
    Its a pleasure to read your chronicles Rita

    1. Thanks for reading, Soumyendu, and thanks also for remembering a successful female auto racer in a male-dominated sport!