Indy 500 chief mechanic Louie Unser dies at 71

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, March 5, 2004 -- Louie Unser, who was chief mechanic on two of his brothers' cars when they made their debuts in the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, died March 2 in Anaheim, Calif. He was 71. Unser was the twin brother of Jerry...

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, March 5, 2004 -- Louie Unser, who was chief mechanic on two of his brothers' cars when they made their debuts in the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, died March 2 in Anaheim, Calif. He was 71.

Unser was the twin brother of Jerry Unser, who in 1958 became the first Unser to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Louie was his chief mechanic and then in 1965 handled the same duties for Al, the youngest of the famed Unser brothers. Al Unser went on to the win the race four times.

"If it wasn't for Louie, I wouldn't have made it at the Speedway," Al Unser said. "He pushed me."

Bobby, the other Unser brother, won the Indianapolis 500 three times. Jerry Unser was fatally injured in a 1959 accident at the Speedway.

Louie Unser, born 10 minutes after Jerry on Nov. 15, 1932, in Colorado Springs, Colo., moved with the family to Albuquerque, N.M., when he was 4. In 1955, Jerry Unser Sr. took his sons back to Colorado Springs for the annual Pikes Peak Hill Climb.

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, so in 1956 he 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. So the brothers purchased the equipment and went racing together.

Jerry earned the 1957 stock car championship 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, and Jerry jumped from car to car until he qualified the McKay Spl. in 24th place. Jerry didn't complete a lap as he got tangled in an accident in the north chute on Turn 1.

>From 1960-62, Louie worked with Stroppe, Carroll Shelby's AC Cobra team and others building engines in the shop, and changing tires and refueling cars in the races. He worked on a car in the four-month East Africa Safari in 1964 despite suffering from multiple sclerosis.

Still, Louie managed the strength to act as crew chief with Al Unser in 1965 at Indianapolis before retiring from trackside involvement. He started an engine-building business in Southern California, and his powerplants helped brother Bobby Unser 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.

Louie and his wife, Laverne, participated in many MS-related fund-raising and research events over the years. He was inducted into the Orange County (Calif.) Hall of Fame in 1997. His final visit to the Indianapolis was for the 1999 Brickyard 400.

Survivors are his wife; a daughter, Lynn; brothers Bobby and Al; and three grandsons.

A memorial service will take place later this month. Cards of condolence may be mailed to: Laverne Unser at 500 Meadowbrook Place, Anaheim, CA 92801.

-irl-

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About this article
Series General , USAC
Drivers Mario Andretti , Al Unser Sr. , Bobby Unser
Article type Obituary