OF LEGACY RACING FAMILY
INSPIRES NEXT GENERATION
Colorado Springs, CO – When the names Unser and Pikes Peak are mentioned in the same sentence, the story is bound to be good. Since the earliest days of this iconic motorsports race, the Unser family has brought their talent, grit and character to compete. In June, the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, brought to you by Gran Turismo, welcomed Loni Unser back to Colorado for her second appearance in the Race to the Clouds.
Three generations preceded her, her great grandfather, Jerry; her grandfather, Jerry Jr., and her father, Johnny – as well as her famous relatives, Al and Bobby Unser. In fact, a dozen members of the Unser family have raced on Pikes Peak. Loni is the second woman from the clan to tackle the 14,115′ summit. Jeri Unser, daughter of the late Bobby Unser, challenged the mountain for the first time in 1998 in the Mini Sprint division in a Wells Coyote finishing in 14:44.52. She returned in 2003 and set a record in an Electric Modified entry.
Loni shared, “I asked my Dad if he could drive me up the mountain after one of my races in Colorado Springs. I wanted to hear all about his experience on the mountain, and I was eager to pick his brain about our family’s history. I can remember looking over the drop-offs and asking him, “Dad how were you not terrified of these drop-offs?” I distinctly remember him looking at me saying, “Your only focus is the road and your next mark, the drop-offs don’t even cross your mind.” I hesitantly accepted his comment, but that day was very special to me because I knew that one day I would be following in his footsteps up that mountain.”
Beginning in 1929, Jerry Unser, one of three brothers making up the first generation to race up the mountain, began to make his mark. In his rookie year he drove in the Open Wheel division in a Coleman 4WD and completed the 12.42 mile course in 20:42.40. Competing for six more years, Jerry Unser would clock his best time in 1936 in the Jerry Unser Special in 17:14.40. His driving days on Pikes Peak ended, but his legacy as a car builder was just beginning.
In 1955 Jerry Unser, Jr. would make his first appearance on America’s Mountain in the Open Wheel division driving the Coniff Special, #9, finishing in 14:50.60. The following year he returned, this time racing a ’56 Chevy in the Stock Car division, not only clinching the win, but setting a division record of 16:08.00. It was a repeat in 1957 when Jerry Jr., brought his ’57 Unser Ford to Pikes Peak, lowering the Stock Car division record to 15:39.20.
Jerry was the first of the legendary Unser family to compete in the Indianapolis 500 in 1958. Sadly, he died in a practice session crash at the Speedway in 1959. His brothers, Bobby and Al, claimed three and four Indy 500 wins, respectively, where Al was one of only four drivers to earn four wins on the world renowned course.
In 1991, Jerry Jr’s son, Loni’s dad Johnny, made his debut in the one-make Pikes Peak Production class in 1991. Three drivers competed in 1991 Eagle Talons. Johnny, a Pikes Peak rookie, finished second in 14:11.21, just six seconds behind the winner, John Crawford. Johnny returned in a stock car in 1993, a natural gas powered Chevrolet, finishing 7th in his #92 in 12:52.94.
Fourth generation racer, Loni arrived as a rookie competitor in 2022 sporting the Unser #92, in the Porsche Pikes Peak Trophy by Yokohama division, finishing second with a time of 12:55.774. She may have been new to Pikes Peak, but she wasn’t new to racing.
In 2016, Loni completed both the BMW Performance Driving School at Thermal Raceway in Thermal, California and the Acura 3-Day High Performance Course on the Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course in Lexington, Ohio.
She continued building her skills in 2017 completing the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association driver development program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, doing spec Miata testing with a variety of coaches including Johnny and Robby Unser, and earning a NASA competition license. The following year she grabbed her first win in WRL endurance racing.
In 2019 she raced in two MX-5 Cup events, as well as a variety of other endurance and spec Miata races. She competed in WRL races in 2020 in a Porsche Boxster with Round3Racing, finishing seven of 11 races on the podium to secure the Eastern Championship.
Loni continued entering and winning WRL events in a Porsche Cayman in 2021. She also competed in the Mazda MX-5 Cup becoming the first woman to finish in the top in 10 back-to-back races at St. Petersburg.
In 2023, Loni drove for Acura in their 2023 Acura Integra, again in her #92. The stylish racecar was wrapped in the livery mirroring Acura’s anime series, Chaiki’s Journey II, which featured a racing family legacy on Pikes Peak, including a daughter who championed the mountain.
When asked what records she may have her eye on, Loni smiled and commented, “My sights are set on becoming the second Queen of the Mountain – behind Michѐle Mouton, and continuing my family’s winning legacy on the mountain.”
GET TO KNOW LONI UNSER
Three Things For Fans To Know:
“I think the most important thing I want fans to know is that I do not take this for granted. I feel so lucky to be in the position I am in, and I will do everything I can to honor myself and my family.”
“I think one of the reasons I love Pikes Peak so much is because I grew up in the mountains of Idaho. As a kid, I spent my time exploring the backcountry so racing up Pikes Peak feels like the perfect combination of the two things I love the most. I’d also really like to mountain bike down the side of Pikes Peak at some point!”
“The first time I ever tested on the top section there were marmots lining the road on the first corner as if they were watching a show. It was the funniest thing I’d ever seen.”
Favorite Corner: “The left-hander leading into the Picnic Grounds, because it’s a lot faster than you think it is.”
Favorite Section: “My favorite section is the top. Not a lot of things in this world can compare to driving the top section at full speed.”
If you could drive any vehicle from your family’s history on Pikes Peak, what would it be? “I’d love to drive the Audi Sport Quattro SL. Watching videos of my Uncle Bobby drive it up Pikes Peak in the dirt and win King of the Mountain is so cool to me.”
Good luck charms or superstitions? “For my 19th birthday, I received one of the coolest gifts from my Dad. He handed me a coin necklace. The coin itself doesn’t hold very much actual value, but sentimentally it is worth the whole world to me. When my Dad was racing the Indianapolis 500 twenty-some years ago, he had a fan come up to him and hand him this 1918 quarter and said, ‘I would like for you to have this, I found it in the corner your father was killed. Take it as good luck.’ From that day forward my Dad carried this quarter in his pocket every single race he ran. Ever since he gave it to me as a necklace I have worn it every single race I have run in as well. If you see me on the mountain, ask to see it! I will surely be wearing it.”
Photos by: Larry Chen, Luis Garcia, Jason Zindroski, PPIHC Archives
Communications Manager / Historian