November 15, 1932 - March 2, 2004
Louis (Louie) Jefferson Unser
Left to right: La Verne Unser, Louie Unser, Bob Sykes.
Born In Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA.
Jerry was the driver and twin brother Louie was his chief mechanic. The family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico when the boys were four. However, in 1955, Jerry Unser Sr took his sons back to Colorado for the annual Pikes Peak Hill Climb, and it was there that the boys' interest really took off.
Louie was driving a tour bus up the mountain, but his father refused to allow him to race in the wheel tracks of his famous uncle of the same name, so Louie slipped into brother Bobby's Jaguar on race day and placed third overall.
But Louie had greater skills as a mechanic and, in 1956, went to work for Bill Stroppe's factory team that was based next door to brother's Jerry's DePaolo Engineering USAC racing team. Both teams folded in 1957 when factories withdrew their support, but the brothers purchased the equipment and went racing together.
Jerry was the 1957 USAC Stock Car champion and presented his diamond ring to Louie, who wore it the rest of his life. Louie also was named mechanic of the year that season.
Jerry and Louie showed up at Indy in 1958, starting a family tradition at the famed Brickyard that would see youngest brother Al the win the Indianapolis 500 four times, brother Bobby three times, while nephew Al Unser Jr was a two-time winner. Jerry's son Johnny and Bobby's son Robby have also competed in the race.
When the twins arrived at Indy, Jerry jumped from car to car until he qualified the McKay Special in 24th place. In his only start, he was caught up in a 13-car pileup on the first lap and flew over the turn three wall, miraculously emerging unhurt.
(Photo credit; indymotorspeedway.com)
The following year on May 17th, Jerry died of serious burns following a practice crash before the 1959 Indianapolis 500, leaving behind a widow, Jeanne Unser, and two sons, Jerry and Johnny Unser.
From 1960-62, Louie worked with Stroppe, Carroll Shelby's AC Cobra team and others building engines in the shop, and changing tires and refuelling cars in the races. He also worked on a car in the four-month East Africa Safari in 1964, despite suffering from multiple sclerosis.
He still managed the strength to act as crew chief with Al at Indy in 1965, before retiring from trackside involvement. "If it wasn't for Louie, I wouldn't have made it at the Speedway," Al said, "He pushed me."
Louis started an engine-building business in southern California, and his powerplants helped brother Bobby and Mario Andretti to race to victories at Pikes Peak. He also built strong, winning engines for sprint cars, sports cars and racing boats.
By the 1970s, Louie was confined to a wheelchair, but he continued working until the 1990s. He and his wife, Laverne, participated in many MS-related fund-raising and research events over the years, and he was inducted into the Orange County Hall of Fame in 1997. His final visit to the Indianapolis was for the 1999 Brickyard 400.
Louie Unser passed away in California March 2, 2004. He had been afflicted with multiple sclerosis for over 50 years and died of complications from the degenerative disease at the age of 71.