Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Audio: USAC puts Unsers into Hall of Fame.

Hot air balloons, green chile and the Unser racing family have made Albuquerque famous. They've put the city on the map.

Yesterday, Bobby and Al Unser Sr. finally made it into the United States Auto Association Hall of Fame. The induction held right inside their racing museum.

The ceremony brought back great memories for me.  In 1981, I was just a young radio reporter when Bobby Unser won his third Indy 500. It was one of the most controversial finishes in Indy 500 history. On lap 149, during a caution period, Bobby and Mario Andretti made their pit stop and headed back to the race. Bobby passed eight cars during the caution, while Mario passed two cars. Unser won the race, but was stripped of the title the following morning in favor of second place finisher Andretti after he challenged the results. After months of appeals, Unser was finally awarded the win in October 1981.

I was the first reporter in the country to learn that Unser would be reinstated. Scrambling to get the scoop, I quickly called 411 operators and asked for Unser's Chama ranch phone number. Suprisingly, the number was listed.

I set up a recorder and dialed the number. Unser was out on the mountain snowmobiling, but his then-wife Marcia talked to me on the record about how excited she was and shared the family's reaction to USAC's final decision.

We broke the story on KZIA 1580 AM - a little family radio station owned by the Deme family in Albuquerque. I then called the network and sold them the audio.  It was my first national story and earned me a top Associated News award for Outstanding Spot News.

I've saved the original network report and Marcia's sound bites (in radio they're called actualities).

Take a listen to history. Just click the arrow in the audio bar below.

Later, Unser told me he estimated loosing the title earlier in the year and the delayed appeal result had cost him close to $1 million in endorsement deals. He retired from racing at the end of 1981. He later joined ABC as a race analyst.
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