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Al Unser 1970
My Favorite Car: Al Unser

Note: This continues a series of interviews with Indianapolis 500 legends about the favorite car they drove in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and why, in their words. “My Favorite Car” interviews will appear at on Mondays through the spring. Read other installments of "My Favorite Car" here.

Q: What was your favorite car you drove in the Indianapolis 500?

Al Unser: You’d have to say the first one (win), the Johnny Lightning car. We put that team together with Parnelli (Jones) and Vel (Miletich) and George Bignotti and myself. About five people, that’s all. It’s not like it is today.

Q: Did you know right away that this car was special when practice opened in May 1970?

AU: Yes. We won Phoenix, the opening show. Usually, when your car was handling and had good luck at Phoenix, for some reason we all kind of thought that it reflected on the Speedway. Whether it did or not is beside the point. When we got to the Speedway, we looked at our competition running every day, and we knew if we did everything right that we would finish well. I don’t think anyone knows if they’re going to win or not. But we knew that we could run up front, and that’s when it counts.

Q: What was that car’s specialty, horsepower or handling?

AU: I think it was both of them. You’ve got to have horsepower. The engine guy named Charlie Tabucchi built the engines for us out of George’s shop. It just was things that clicked along very well, and we knew that if everything went right, if I didn’t mess up on pit stops, if the crew didn’t mess up, we would run up toward the front.

Q: Anything else about that car that stands out? Clear sailing all month?

AU: It was clear sailing. I led 190 laps of that race. It shined from day one until the end of the season that year. We knew we had to come up with a different car (for 1971). The ’70 car didn’t hold enough fuel, and they had to put a side tank on the left side. They built a new tub for the next year, and it was a good car, but they had us outclassed already. USAC, they let the McLarens run the rear wings. They had us covered. Luckily, everything went good that year for the second year. I thought: ‘Boy, this ought to be something. Good team, and I can just win all of these races.’ Well, it didn’t work out like that.

Q: Do you look at the Johnny Lightning car as the end of an era? Once slick tires and wings went on, everything changed?

AU: Yes. Back then, you built your own cars. Things were a lot different in those days than they are today.

Facts about Al Unser’s 1970 Indianapolis 500 car:
Car name: Johnny Lightning 500 P.J. Colt/Ford
Car number: 2
Team: Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing
Qualified: First
Finished: First
Laps Completed: 200
Laps Led: 190
Status: Running
Al Unser career ‘500” starts: 27 (1965-68, 70-90, 92-93)

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