A chance meeting on Route 66 in Albuquerque resulted in a trip to the Indianapolis 500 with Al Unser Sr., and his wife Susan in 2005. We felt like one of the family in their motorhome, and this family just happens to be the winningest family in Indy racing history.
This Sunday, when the race gets underway at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we will fire up a crock of Mom Unserâ€™s Indy Chili in honor of our new friends, the same hearty fare Mom Unser served after every race.
Anyone who doubts that risk-taking and hard work can pay off in this land of opportunity need look no further than the Unsers. From the moment Louis and Marie Unser set foot on American soil, theirs is a pioneering adventure story wrought with challenges and adversity that strengthens their will to succeed.
The Unsers made their trek west to Colorado in the 1890s. In the shadow of the mountain that inspired America the Beautiful they raised three sons who shared their fatherâ€™s fascination with flying machines and automobiles. While others dared to climb the nearby mountain, the Unser boys dreamed of driving to the top. The Unsers’ garage became a training ground for a family of self-taught machinists, fabricators and automotive engineers whoâ€™ve been turning out champions for nearly a century.
To date, 12 Unsers have made their mark in the record book: 38 wins at the Pikeâ€™s Peak Hill Climb, arguably the most difficult and dangerous race in the world; first to break the 200 mph barrier on a closed track; the only Indy Car Triple Crown sweep in history. But their greatest triumphsâ€”and tragediesâ€”would come in Americaâ€™s heartland, at a place called Indianapolis. One Unser would die there; seven would race thereâ€”six in the Indianapolis 500. They would win the big race nine times.
This year, Al Unser, Jr. will race in the 500, and his son, â€œJustâ€ Al III, will race at Indy in the Pro Series’ Freedom 100.
As legions of flashy mega-stars rise and fall, the Unsers remain as humble and unassuming as the men and women at the local auto repair shop. They are people who not only dream big dreams, they pick up their tools and muster the grit to make those dreams come true. Like all American families, they continue to face their share of challenges. But let me tell you, they can make a mean bowl of chili!
Mom Unserâ€™s Indy Chili
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! But before you do, make sure you have a crock of Mom Unser’s Indy Chili simmering on the stove.
Ingredients:Â Â Â 1 pound lean pork (tenderloin or chops)
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 1 medium onion
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 1 clove fresh garlic
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 1 2-pound can diced tomatoes
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 3 cups fresh roasted, peeled & diced green chili*, medium to hot
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 1 shake oregano
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Salt to taste
Preparation:Â Â Â Remove all fat from pork, and cube. SautÃ© pork, onion and garlic till cooked. Add tomatoes with juice to skillet. Add oregano, salt and green chili. Simmer approximately 35 minutes. Pinto beans may be added, if desired, or served as a side dish. Serve with warm tortillas.
Â * To roast fresh green chili â€“ rinse chili and place on a hot barbecue rack. Turn chilies till skin is uniformly roasted. Place chilies in a bowl and cover with a damp dishcloth. (This allows the chilies to â€œsweatâ€ and the skin to loosen from the meat of the chili). Wait 15 minutes then begin removing the skins and remove the stem along with the seed stem. Keep some seeds as they also add flavor.Â JUST A TIP â€“ DO NOT RUB YOUR EYES WHILE HANDLING CHILI!!
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Indy Firsts:Â Â Â
â€¢Â Â Â On May 30, 1911 Ray Harroun, an engineer from Spartansburg, Pa., won the first Indy 500, driving a yellow Marmon Wasp with Firestone tires. His was the only one-man car in the race; all others had a mechanic along for the ride. Harrounâ€™s average speed around the oval was 74.59 mph. Harroun later invented a carburetor that was a forerunner of modern fuel-injection systems. He also developed a kerosene-burning Maxwell racecar in 1914 that ran on tracks for nearly 15 years.
â€¢Â Â Â For the first time in the history of the race, all cars competing in this yearâ€™s Indy 500 will run on renewable fuelâ€”100% fuel-grade ethanol.
â€¢Â Â Â 2007 marks the first year three women will be competing at once. The historic trio includes Danica Patrick, Sarah Fisher and rookie Milka Duno, a native of Venezuela and the first Hispanic female ever to race in the Indianapolis 500.
â€¢Â Â Â Jim Nabors, most famous for his role as the TV character Gomer Pyle, will once again take the microphone to perform the race-day song â€œBack Home in Indiana.â€ Though he was born in Alabama, he has returned nearly every year since he was first asked to sing in 1972.
â€¢Â Â Â Legendary driver A.J. Foyt, 72, will be a participant in his 50th straight Indy 500 when the race gets underway on Sunday. He drove in 35 consecutive Indy races from ’58 to ’92, and has been a car owner every year since. A.J. Foyt, the first to win at Indy four times, was later joined by Al Unser Sr. in the record books.Â And who will be piloting one of A.J.’s cars in his 50th anniversary at Indy? None other than Al Unser, Jr.Â
Learn more about America’s first family of racing with a visit to the Unser Racing Museum, a wonderful exhibit hall filled with cars, photos and a treasure trove of racing memorabilia from five generations of Unsers in Albuquerque, New Mexico.Â
Lisa Gensheimer, Travel Correspondent
The Culinary Tourist appears every other Thursday and by chance in Gather Essentials: Travel. A published author, Lisa has several new projects in the works, including a cultural cookbook and companion travel DVD. She and her husband Rich are working on Race through the Clouds, a documentary about the Unser racing legacy. Read more about the Gensheimers’ work at www.MainStreetMedia.tv