Indy 500 legend Unser makes Seymour stop


Indianapolis 500 racing legend Al Unser Sr. turned and looked at a replica of his famed Cummins-sponsored IndyCar at the factory in Seymour on Friday and smiled.

It was 32 years to the day Unser became a four-time champion of the Indianapolis 500 while at the wheel of the Penske PC-16.

The 79-year-old spent time at Cummins Seymour Engine Plant reflecting on the victory during a tour of the plant on East Fourth Street. There also was a discussion time and autograph session for employees.

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“I could have stayed there all day,” Unser said after lunch at a local restaurant. “It was really wonderful to see everything they do there. To come back here, it really means a lot to me.”

It was part of Unser’s stop here before he attended a reception for an exhibit of some of the works from his collection at Southern Indiana Center for the Arts later in the evening.

The collection will remain on display until the end of this month at the center, 2001 N. Ewing St., Seymour.

That exhibit features items from his racing days, including replica cars, racing gloves, a suit and various photographs from the Unser Racing Museum in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“It’s neat to share everything with the public,” he said.

Unser etched his name into Indy 500 lore in 1987 when he won the 71st running of the race to join an elite group of drivers to win four Indianapolis 500 races.

The other four-time winners are A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears.

Unser’s fourth victory is one of the more storied ones because he just was a part-time driver who was rehired by Penske Racing to fill a vacant seat after Team Penske driver Danny Ongais sustained a concussion.

The underdog victory is one of the most historical moments in the storied track’s rich history. Unser started 20th that day and gradually worked his way forward before taking the lead for good on Lap 183. His victory came just five days before his 48th birthday.

Jim Plump, a board member at the arts center, said the organization was discussing programs for 2019 during meetings last year when he suggested an exhibit with an Indianapolis 500 theme.

Plump called on John Lewis V, who once worked for Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to see who SICA should speak with about arranging one.

“He said, ‘What would you think of having Al Unser memorabilia?’” Plump said. “It turns out that they’re both good friends, and I told him, ‘Absolutely.’”

As they spoke, they realized Unser’s fourth win at the track was in a Cummins-sponsored car.

That’s how Cummins became involved in sponsoring Unser’s exhibit at the arts center. It also fit into the company’s interest, too, as it celebrates its 100th anniversary and a new deal with Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

All of those factors seemed to come together to create a perfect storm for the exhibit, Plump said. It also brings attention to the center in a big way.

“We look at the arts center as a very important piece of what Seymour and Jackson County is all about,” he said. “I think it’s important to create the awareness that the arts center is still very viable.”

Having an exhibit featuring the Unser name and his items on display is something pretty special, Plump said.

Considering how Unser is only one of three drivers to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing four times, that makes it even more special, he said.

“You do the math of the 100-plus years they’ve run the 500 and you realize that only three people have won it four times, that’s a big deal to have this happen for Seymour,” he said.

John Stein, a manufacturing engineer director for Cummins, had a 1987 Indy 500 cap with Cummins’ name on it to celebrate Unser’s victory for him to sign.

The cap belonged to the late John Trimpe of Freetown, who was a former employee of Cummins.

It was given to Dave Campbell, who works alongside Stein, after a group of Cummins workers helped Trimpe at his home as part of Jackson County United Way’s annual Day of Caring.

“Mr. Trimpe gave us all some Cummins memorabilia as a sign of gratitude,” he said, adding he received a Cummins clock.

Trimpe’s stepson, Mike Phillips, also works for Cummins as an electrician.

The hat will be displayed in the front office for visitors of the factory to see.

“It’s exciting because it was touching at the end of the day for him to share some of his Cummins history,” he said. “It was nice to see this to get it done as a tribute.”

Jason Knoke, a service training worker, said he first met Unser around 1985 at the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds.

“He was a legend even then, and he was bigger than life,” he said. “All the kids wanted to just be around him.”

Knoke had Unser sign a diecast car of one of Unser’s IndyCars and a few other items.

“It’s great because he’s an icon in racing, and really, his whole family is,” he said.

Randy Lusk, a materials specialist, had an IndyCar guide sold at races. It belonged to his son, and he wanted to get a few more signatures in it.

The book already the signatures of Unser’s son, Al Unser Jr., and Foyt, among others.

Unser, Plump and others took time after the tour at Cummins to have lunch downtown at Larrison’s Diner. Unser got a famous cheeseburger and fries from the popular Seymour eatery.

“It’s great to be here,” he said.

Unser joked he had been in Seymour for the better part of two days and had not heard about the trains everyone kept talking about.

“I haven’t seen one yet,” he said. “I’ve only seen tracks but have been told it wouldn’t take long to see one. I really wanted to see one.”

Unser beams when he talks about racing at the Indianapolis 500 or if you ask him about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in general.

“I’d like to go back 50 years and do it again,” he said. “I really would because I really love it. Every time I go back to the speedway, I get goosebumps.”

Growing up, Unser dreamed about going to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Then he dreamed of a day where he would have an opportunity to qualify.

Then the dream to race.

Qualifying was difficult because he estimates he went through about 15 cars to get enough speed.

“The car I brought didn’t have enough motor in it,” he said. “It’s one of those deals where you’re there, so you have to do it.”

Then he said he caught a little bit of a break when a man by the name of A.J. Foyt told him he had an extra car in his garage and he could try it out.

“I was glued to him,” he said. “It was a dream come true, and not many people get that where it happens to them.”

That, of course, worked out well as the two each won four times.

Winning four is great, but Unser wishes there were more.

“I should have won five or six, no wait, 10,” he laughed. “It’s hard to win at Indianapolis.”

Unser still tries to attend the race each year. On Sunday, he plans to attend and ride in a two-seater Cummins car with Johnny Rutherford.

“I love it. I really do,” he said.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”If you go” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

What: Al Unser Sr. exhibit

When: During SICA’s hours (check online)

Where: Southern Indiana Center for the Arts, 2001 N. Ewing St., Seymour


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