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Hagerty Employee

Al Unser was racing's John Wayne

In the spring of 1987, guests at one of the finest hotels in Reading, Pennsylvania-the Sheraton at 1741 Papermill Road-were startled to see a truck pull up to the door and workers hastily load up the 1986 March IndyCar, part of a lobby exhibit to call attention to the then-Reading-based Penske Racing team.

   Al, like the other Unsers, was a man's man and truly one of the legends of racing.  There have been a few racing families like the Andrettis, the Pettys, and others who laid the foundations of "guts and glory" racing.  They hit every type of track from dirt to bricks and from roundy-round to hill-climbs with equal measures of "just win, baby" and "what, me worry?".

   There are newer multi-generational racers who are making their marks, and some are truly great, but they are driving on ways paved by people like Al Unser and his contemporaries.  R.I.P., Mr. Unser, sir...


Pikes Peak International Hill Climb back-to-back King of the Mountain titles in the Open Wheel Class in 1964 and 1965.

Al was the kind of racer I love to watch and cheer for. He would race very smart and often waited for the racket o come to him. He had that special thing like David Pearson. 

Then when he won he celebrated but acted like he had been there before.


I’m sad tossed all the underside lost this year but thrilled to see Al Jr finally find God and have his faith to get  through this year. 

I was lucky to he met both Al and Al Jr at Mid Ohio and appreciated both for their racing and kindness to the fans. 

I have a photo of Al the year he won the 500 and the USAC championship in the Johnny Lighting car. It was signed by Al to Geo Bignotti thanking him for such a great year. It is framed on my wall and reminds me of that great era. 


Why diminish the accomplishments of a gutsy racer by comparing him with the king of the chickenhawks? Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Jason Robards, Sir Alec Guinness, Paul Newman, Kirk Douglas, Mel Brooks, David Niven, even Audrey Hepburn and Josephine Baker were in the thick of it, dodging flak or torpedoes, defusing land mines, working with the French Resistance. While my pappy was being shot and shelled on one miserable Pacific island after another, John Wayne was shooting cap guns on a soundstage in Burbank.

Let's park this clown, an insult to a ballsy driver, Al Unser.

In all fairness to John Wayne. He did inlist into the service only to be denied by a Section 8 due to a condition known as Flat Feet which impedes one's ability to run.

Right up there with Bratman's phony bone spur, 50 years saying John McCain not a hero because he was caught, and calling those who served "suckers and losers," but how he loves those military parades and US flag lapel pin costume jewelry.

"Grand Prix racing, mountain climbing and bullfighting are sports, all the others are games. -- Ernest Hemingway

Anyone wanting to know about another world-class racer up against bigger odds than even Al Unser, read Neal Bascomb's "Faster," about Rene Dreyfus.

Wayne faced many threats over the years on his own. Some even at the time he would go overseas to visit the troupes.


Few know the Communist has sent out a KGB hit man to take out Wayne. Obviously not one to let a thing like Communist assassins get him down, Wayne and his scriptwriter Jimmy Grant allegedly abducted the hitmen, took them to the beach, and staged a mock execution. No one knows exactly what happened after that, but Wayne’s friends say the Soviet agents began to work for the FBI from that day on.

But there were other incidents were KGB agents tried to take the actor out on the set of 1953’s Hondo in Mexico. A captured sniper in Vietnam claimed that he was hired by Chairman Mao to take the actor out on a visit to troops there.


Stalin died in 1953. His successor, Nikita Khrushchev, met privately with John Wayne in 1958 and informed him that the order had been rescinded. Wayne told his friends Khrushchev called Stalin’s last years his “mad years” and apologized.


The entire time Wayne knew there was a price on his head, he refused the FBI’s offer of federal protection and didn’t even tell his family. He just moved into a house with a big wall around it. Once word got out, though, Hollywood stuntmen loyal to the Duke began to infiltrate Communist Party cells around the country and expose plots against him.

Wayne never spoke of the incidents publicly.


What also gets left out is Wayne was much older than many realize. Many of his co actors were much younger than he by 1945 he was nearly 40 years old and had a family. Not the prime age the government wants to send anyone into combat. 

The other issue is the US government  was not keen on big time actors going into combat. The loss of one would be great propaganda to the other side. Many of the actors that served were up and communing at the time. 


Let's put it this way. If Lee Marvin who served and was injured in the worst of WW2 was a friend of Wayne's and never had an issue then you should not either. 



How heroic. And what slick PR.

William Manchester recounted how, as a young Marine, he sat in the audience when John Wayne appeared in the Pacific at a USO show. Wayne did his dopey he-man walk onstage in his cowboy get up; the big hat, chaps, a pair of pearl-handled cap guns. The audience of war-weary small town boys, farm kids, hardened fellows from the streets of Brooklyn, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and all points between broke out in hysterical laughter. Wayne turned and left the stage.

Wayne and Hedda Hopper worked hand in glove to destroy the careers of competing actors, screenwriters, directors, who were no more "red" than you, but might've signed or joined a group in college to get into some girl's pants.

FDR wisely appropriated elements of socialism in the New Deal during the devastating Depression to keep millions of Americans from embracing the empty horror of communism. The Russian bear was inflated postwar to keep War II contractors satiated. Packard's legal counsel, Henry E. Bodman, for example, rewrote the Merlin contract so that it became the basis of government contracts for years to come.
Have you already forgotten the $1.5 trillion F-35 contractors' feeding frenzy?

Wayne was all of 34 in 1941. Kirk Douglas, among the others cited, served in harm's way, walking the talk, Douglas later breaking the disgusting blacklist Wayne and Hopper built.

Again, let's not diminish a gutsy racer like Al Unser, comparing him with a chickenhawk who in a most cowardly manner destroyed others' careers.

We look forward to memories of Phil Hill, a gentleman whose modesty matched his skill and daring, and of course, Rene Dreyfus.

Continue this ballyhoo on some "cowboy screen legends" site, por favor.

Al Sr was a Wayne fan lol!


My gawd you're a miserable troll aren't you? Not only do you barge into an Al Unser memorial with a John Wayne rant, you feel the need to one-up him by mentioning another racer "up against bigger odds"? Of course if you're here to inject politics with ridiculous stories from "anonymous source" propaganda rags, there probably isn't any bar you find too low.

   I think Al Unser, Sr. was one of the greatest American racecar drivers of my lifetime.  There were European and South American racers, of course, who had wonderful careers and stories.  I'm sure that some of those will be related here in the Community pages at an appropriate time.  And there are multiple stories of showbiz people who had military service and some who did not - however, those are not relevant to a column honoring Mr. Unser, whose accomplishments stand clear as testament to his greatness.

   Nor are stories of showbiz people relevant to this site unless they relate to the automotive scene in some way.  Political statements of any ilk are not only not appropriate here, but they violate the rules of this site, IMO.

   As in any public forum, we will find those who will ignore not only the rules, but common decency and decorum, in order to spew forth whatever springs into their minds.


The above article's

                                     t  i  t  l  e

about an auto racer introduced an actor, "showbiz, politics" and the predictable unrequited testosterone, Walter Mittyism of fanboys.

Can only imagine "big John Wayne's" snarly dismissal of leading Grand Prix driver Lewis Hamilton, or for that matter, Rene Dreyfus in the day.


Please just Morn the racer and save the woke politics for a story on woke politics. 

Sorry to be direct but the blatant hints are not working. 


RIP you Legend!