Bobby Unser, a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and part of the only pair of brothers to win the “Biggest Race Spectacle”, has died. He was 87 years old.
He died Sunday at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, of natural causes, Indianapolis Motor Speedway reported on Monday. Unser won the Indy 500 in 1968, 1975 and 1981.
His younger brother Al is one of three four-time Indy 500 winners in racing history. Al Unser won the race in 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987. The Unser family tradition extends to Al Unser’s son, Al Unser Jr., who won the Indy 500 in 1992 and 1994.
“Bobby was a fierce racer on the track and his personality, bigger than life, made him one of the most beloved and unique racers we’ve ever seen,” said Roger Penske, the current owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway but the team’s owner. Unser’s winning 1981 Indy 500 car.
“Apart from his many victories and achievements, Bobby was a real racer who increased the performance of everyone around him. He was also one of the most colorful heroes in motorsport.”
Bobby Unser was born on February 20, 1934 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but moved with his family as a child to New Mexico. His father owned a garage on Route 66, and he and his brother grew up in old-fashioned toolboxing before embarking on a racing career in 1949 at Roswell Speedway, New Mexico.
After two years in the U.S. Air Force from 1953 to 1955 – a stay he was always proud of – Unser turned to full-time racing and became one of the greatest racers in the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He was one of only 10 drivers to win the 500 at least three times, and Unser and Rick Mears are the only drivers to have won the 500 in three different decades. Unser is one of six members of the Unser family competing in the Indianapolis 500.
His last victory in the Indy 500 in 1981 came in Penske with one of the most controversial and controversial results. Unser defeated Mario Andretti by 5.18 seconds, but officials ruled that Unser passed the car illegally as he left the pit lane for consideration – pulling a penalty that pinned him to one position and moved Andretti to the winner.
Penske and Unser appealed and after a lengthy trial, the sentence was overturned in October of that year. This was the 35th and last victory in Unser’s career.
In Indianapolis, Unser made 10 top-10 finals in 19 career starts. He leads in 10 races for a total of 440 laps, which to this day ranks 10th in the list for all time.
“When you mention racing icons, especially the Indianapolis track, Bobby Unser was a legend,” said Doug Bowles, president of Speedway. “He could drive and win in any type of car and on any type of track. And he was magical in Indy.”
After a driving career, Unser switched to broadcasting and won an Emmy Award as part of the ABC Sports team for “Outstanding Live Sports Shows” for his 1989 coverage in the Indianapolis 500.
Unser is left by his wife Lisa; sons Bobby Jr. and Robbie; and daughters Cindy and Jerry.