The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is a huge event that has as much color, pageantry and history as any race on record. Four decades ago, the event started humbly enough with a Formula 5000 race before moving up with Formula One a year later. Soon CART was the featured series, which turned into ChampCar and eventually became IndyCar of today.
There have been many great drivers who have driven the prestigious street race including multiple-time winners: Alex Zanardi, Paul Tracy, Sebastien Bourdais, Michael Andretti and his father Mario Andretti, who won in both F1 and CART for a total of four victories. But there was another driver who topped Andretti.
Al Unser Jr. drove very successfully in the '80s and '90s, winning two CART championships and a couple of Indy 500s too. But his biggest accomplishment at any one track was more than likely during those same years in CART at the Long Beach Grand Prix. From 1988 to 1995, Unser Jr. or 'Little Al' was king of the streets of Long Beach, California.
Always in front
Over the course of eight years, Little Al won six Long Beach events - and in dominating fashion. He led 476 laps of those six races, while starting on either the first or second row each time including two poles.
When you dig deeper into the stats, it doesn't get any less impressive. In 15 starts at Long Beach, when he wasn't crashed (twice), or slowed by mechanical problems (twice), he never finished lower than fourth. In fact, remarkably, if you throw out his crash in '93, he was fourth or better through 12 straight Long Beach Grand Prix races.
And he won with two different teams. His first four wins were with Galles Racing (Galles-Kraco) and then he won two more driving for Roger Penske and Penske Racing. And about those four wins with Galles? They were all in-a-row. Yes, from '88 to '91, the only name on the winner's trophy was Al Unser Jr. He was that dominating.
Bourdais' string of three wins in-a-row from '05 to '07 is impressive but Little Al's six wins and superior results from over a decade of racing, faraway make his feat the most dominant anybody has ever had at any one track.
If there was a street race in Southern California and Little Al was there, you were prepared to see him in front - because Al Unser Jr. was king of Long Beach.
Sources - Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (history), Racing Reference, IndyCar
Daryle has been involved in motorsports most of his life and has three decades of experience inside racemarketing, plus blogged about every type of racing for several years.
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