Now, he is devoting much of his time to promoting tire safety.
It is this role that brought the 54-year-old Unser, a part of the legendary Unser auto racing family and a resident of Hailey, Idaho, to the Atlanta area last week as he made a series of appearances to promote tire safety for Cooper Tires.
“I like to be able to share some pretty simple things the average consumer can do,” Unser said. “To educate people about tires for me is interesting, because when you go in to buy a set of tires, you have some simple education [from the consumer] of what you are looking for in a tire — where do you live, what kinds of roads do you drive on, what’s the climate where you live, what kind of tire you are looking for.”
In his appearances, Unser gives a number of simple tips to keep tires in good condition.
“The first tip I give to people is to take a look at your tire,” Unser said. “It’s easy to ignore it and a lot of people do. Let a gouge out of your sidewall or run into a curb a few times. Maybe you don’t drive very much and the tire is sitting in the sun year after year and is getting big cracks in the sidewall. Maybe your tread is uneven. It’s a good indicator that maybe you need to check your alignment.”
Unser has been worked for Findlay, Ohio-based Cooper Tires for about 10 years, acting as a spokesman for the company and an advisor on tire development and the company’s involvement in auto racing.
“I help out in promoting new tires, talking to dealers or salespeople about what we’re doing as a company and the technology that we’re offering,” he said. “I’m involved in the development of new tires and products, going to the race tracks and being there for the race series that Cooper supplies tires to.
“You add all those things together and I’m on the road a lot for Cooper. I’m with Cooper basically full-time, year-round.”
Before that, Unser followed the footsteps of his father Jerry Unser, who was killed in an accident while competing at the Indianapolis 500 in 1959, as well as his uncles Al and Bobby Unser and his cousin Al Unser Jr. in a racing career that spanned from the mid-1980s to 2001.
The highlight of Unser’s career was his five consecutive appearances in the Indianapolis 500 from 1996 to 2000 — with an 18th-place finish in 1997 his best result in the prestigious Memorial Day race.
“It was unbelievable, because it was the largest single-day sporting event in the world and to be there with 400,000 people watching is pretty awesome,” he said. “It’s a big show to be competing and and continuing in a place on the same track where my dad lost his life. It’s kind of like ‘Wow! Did I really do this?’ It’s all good. It’s something I always dreamt of and was fortunate to be able to do that.”
In addition to his duties with Cooper Tires, Unser also owns a go-kart track in Denver, Colo., where he develops the next generation of race-car drivers.
“It’s an indoor race track, but we also have a race track that races outdoors,” he said. “So, we take the kids through the indoor track to the next level, which is the kids racing outdoors. We develop the carts and the engines and the kids out on the track and we prepare them for the next level, which is the Cooper Tires USF 2000 series. If they have the financial means to go to the next series, they go to that, run that for a couple of years and move up to the next series.”