Unsers Rev Up Plans for Car Museum
By Dennis Latta
Journal Staff Writer
March 14, 2002
Al Unser Sr. and his son, Al Unser Jr., have committed $1.5 million to building an automobile museum on family land near Central and Unser on Albuquerque's far West Side.
A nonprofit foundation has been set up to raise more money for the planned 50,000-square-foot center on the 12-acre site.
"The vision is still in its infant stages," Unser Jr. said.
The two Unsers have scheduled a news conference in Phoenix today to announce the "Unser Children's Discovery Center," to be completed by the end of next year. The younger Unser is driving in an Indy Racing League event in Phoenix, and his father is a driving coach for the series.
Al Unser Sr., a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and Al Jr., a two-time winner, envision a museum that will appeal to adults and children.
In addition to cars and exhibits showing the history of the auto, it would include virtual racing, a theater and possibly a giant motor that would allow youngsters to climb into the cylinders of an engine and slide out the exhaust.
"I think that young people today don't know the history of the automobile," Unser Sr. said. "They don't understand the changes from the standard transmission to the computer chips you have in today's cars."
The Unsers don't have to look far to find enough cars to fill a museum.
"We have Model As, we have pace cars (from Indy), we have more cars than we'll have room for," Unser Sr. said.
The Unsers have hired Martin Fox, a member of the race team with Galles Racing for 19 seasons, to rebuild cars. He's working on a 1963 Johnny Lightning dirt car that Unser Sr. drove in the Pikes Peak race.
"I think that'll help people understand how the Unsers survived in racing," Unser Sr. said.
But it hasn't been easy for the Unsers to find even replicas of some of their old race cars. Fox is having to make his own parts as he goes.
"We didn't own the cars we were driving," the younger Unser said. "If I had the money, I'd own one of the G-Forces I drove last year. What we actively have done is save pictures and posters. And dad has an extensive scrapbook."
Meanwhile, Unser Sr.'s brother, Bobby Unser, remains heavily involved in the Wheels Museum, to be built on a 27-acre site in Downtown Albuquerque that was the old Santa Fe Railway Repair Shop.
That museum will focus on the history of transportation - airplanes, autos, trains, etc.
Bobby Unser, a three-time Indy champion, will have some of his cars on display at the Downtown museum.
"I am totally behind the Wheels Museum," he said. "I'm looking at a bigger thing for the state and city. It's not just an Unser thing. Wheels will be 100 times bigger. They got the largest available place in the entire country."
But, he said, his involvement in that museum rather than his brother's didn't indicate a rift in the family.
Leba Freed, president of the Wheels board of directors, said the Downtown museum will "have a much broader scope" than the Unsers' planned museum.