Albuquerque’s Unser Racing Museum is closing its doors, its trove of memorabilia to be transferred to the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The announcement Friday came despite efforts by the Albuquerque City Council to convince the Unser family, who owns the collection, to keep it in the Duke City.
The Albuquerque Unser Museum’s final day is May 29; it opened its doors in 2005.
From 2003-06, the Journal reported, the New Mexico Legislature allocated some $4.3 million to help get the Unser Museum up and running at its current location on Montaño Bouelvard in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. The Unser family essentially matched that figure.
In March of this year, Albuquerque City Councilor Klarissa Peña proposed that $4 million in infrastructure funds be allocated to relocate the museum from its original site to Unser and Central SW – in part in an effort to prevent the collection from being moved to Nebraska, as was rumored. The council voted to include $4 million for the Unser Museum in the general obligation bond package that will go to voters this fall.
Museum spokesman Bob Brown said Friday that in large part the decision was made because of the reduced presence in Albuquerque of its storied racing family.
Al Unser Sr., a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and the museum’s founder with his wife, Susan, died in December 2021. His older brother Bobby, a three-time winner at Indy, died some seven months earlier. Al Unser Jr., 61, a two-time winner at the Brickyard, lives in Indianapolis.
The relocation of the Unser collection, Brown said, had been discussed before Al Sr.’s death.
“This was a generational plan,” he said, “where (the Unsers) know that the Unser legacy is going to live on with the Unser collection being the centerpiece of this Museum of American Speed.”
The Unser collection, Brown said, will benefit from the Lincoln museum’s far greater space and its far greater traffic.
“The Unser Racing Museum has a little over 20,000 square feet between the two buildings,” he said. “This museum in Lincoln has 240,000 square feet.
“The Unser Museum does about 20,000, maybe a little bit more, visitors a year. This museum in Lincoln, 100,000 visitors a year.”
Brown, a retired Albuquerque sportscaster and radio talk-show host, became well-acquainted with Al Unser Sr. through his work in the media. He said his work at the museum, as a tour guide and media spokesman, was a labor of love.
Of the collection’s departure, he said, “It will be gone (from Albuquerque), there’s no doubt about it, and that’s a sad fact, obviously,” he said. “But you’ve got to look at it in a different way as race fans. … The Unsers, the Unser collection, all of that is going to live on.”
The Museum of American Speed was established in 1992 as an outgrowth of Speedway Motors, a racing manufacturing company founded in 1952 by the Smith family of Lincoln.
“The Unser family is one of the most storied families in automotive and racing history,” said Carson Smith, director of the Museum of American Speed, in a news release. “We’ve had racing partnerships with members of the Unser family for over 38 years and are honored to welcome the Unser collection to our museum.”
The Museum of American Speed already is home to the Johnny Lightning Special and the Viceroy VPJ Special driven by Al Sr. and the 1971 Gurney Eagle driven by Bobby Unser, along with other vehicles and engines significant to Unser racing history.