Bobby Unser, a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and one of the most decorated names in American racing history, died on Sunday at his home in New Mexico at the age of 87.
A member of the famed Unser family, Bobby and younger brother Al have won the Indianapolis 500 a combined seven times, with Bobby scoring victories in 1968, 1975, and 1981. Nephew Al Jr. also has two wins to make nine total triumphs for the family.
In addition to the prestigious race, Unser won thirty-five IndyCar events across its multitude of sanctioning bodies. The 1968 and 1974 champion, he also has ten victories in CART for Team Penske.
“There simply was no one quite like Bobby Unser,” said his CART employer Roger Penske. “Bobby was a ferocious competitor on the track and his larger-than-life personality made him one of the most beloved and unique racers we have ever seen. Bobby brought so much to Team Penske during his time with our team, including a memorable victory in the 1981 Indianapolis 500. Beyond his many wins and accomplishments, Bobby was a true racer that raised the performance of everyone around him. He was also one of the most colourful characters in motorsports.
“Throughout his time as a driver, a commentator and an ambassador of our sport, Bobby’s stories and his passion for racing were legendary. Our thoughts and condolences are with Lisa, the Unser family and Bobby’s many friends and fans during this difficult time.”
Prior to heading into IndyCar, he enjoyed great success in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, where he holds the record for the most overall wins at ten. He won the Colorado hillclimb’s overall title ten times in 1956, 1958 to 1963 (the longest streak), 1966, 1968, and 1986, and also has thirteen class victories. He was inducted into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
Unser’s racing résumé also includes two entries in Formula One in 1968 and the NASCAR Cup Series in 1968, 1972, and 1973. In the latter discipline, he finished forty-second in his lone Daytona 500 start for the legendary Smokey Yunick, while his best finish was fourth in the 1973 season opener at Riverside for Holman-Moody. Unser also competed in the International Race of Champions from the inaugural season in 1974 to 1980, notching four wins and the 1975 championship.
After retiring from racing, Unser became a longtime IndyCar and NASCAR for ABC, NBC, and ESPN while also working for the IMS Radio Network. In 1987 and 1992, he had the chance to call Al Sr. and Al Jr.’s Indy 500 victories. ABC’s coverage of the 1989 500 earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Live Sports Special.
“I join the racing world mourning the passing of Bobby Unser,” tweeted longtime IndyCar rival Mario Andretti. “The best of times….. when a fierce competitor can also be a very very very good friend. RIP my friend. Thanks for the memories”.