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Sunday, September 19, 1999
The 1900s have seen New Mexico grow from an out-of-the-way U.S. territory to a state known for science, sports, literature and the arts as well as for its unique cultural mix and brand of politics.
While many people have contributed in these areas, some have had a larger-than-usual impact. Some are known far and wide: Smokey Bear, Georgia O'Keeffe, the Unser family. Others might not have as high a name recognition outside New Mexico, but leave a legacy that helped define the state.
And in most cases, their influence has been felt far beyond New Mexico's borders.
Here is one of the 20 individuals or families who helped make New Mexico what it is today.
The Unser Family
Albuquerque's Unser family first got involved with automobiles by working on them, not racing them. But after moving from under the hood to behind the wheel they found they had a natural talent.
CREDIT Bobby Unser, left; Robby Unser, center; Al Unser Jr., right.
Jerry Unser, the patriarch of the family, had a garage on Nine-Mile Hill west of Albuquerque, where cars coming into town after the long drive on Route 66 would stop at the first repair shop they saw. And a junkyard developed.
Jerry's four sons starting putting those junk cars together and racing them, and that has led to triumph and tragedy.
Jerry Unser Jr. was the first Unser to try to race in the Indianapolis 500 with his brother Louis as his mechanic. He qualified for the 1958 Indy 500 but was involved in a crash on the warmup lap and never started the race. He was killed in a crash at Indy in 1959 during a practice session.
Bobby Unser was the first to win the Indy 500. He did it in 1968. He enjoyed it so much that he won again in 1975 and 1981 to become a three-time winner.
Younger brother Al won at Indy in 1970 and 1971. He also won in 1978 and 1987, joining A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears as the only drivers who have won Indy four times.
Al Unser Jr. became the first son of an Indy 500 winner to conquer the Brickyard when he won in 1992. His father was third in the same race. Little Al won again in 1994.
Robby Unser, Bobby's son, has finished fifth and seventh in the last two Indy 500s.
Out of 83 Indy 500s, the Unsers have won nine times. They have created a tradition that may never be matched at the most famous automobile race in the world.
Compiled by Fritz Thompson, Leslie Linthicum, Bill Hume and Dennis Latta