(AP) – There wasn’t a lot that Bobby Unser wouldn’t do to promote the Indianapolis 500, and so a few years ago he found himself at a show-and-tell at an elementary school in Indiana.
He had the famous Borg-Warner Trophy of the Indy 500 winners with him and proudly showed the students the legacy of Unser. He pointed to the nine places their faces are carved in the sterling silver – four places for his little brother Al; three for yourself; two for nephew Al Jr.
One girl had a question: if her brother has been there four times and he only three, was his brother the better racer?
It was one of the few times anyone had seen our speechless.
Ours, who started racing jalopies in New Mexico and later became a popular figure in racing and was part of the only pair of brothers to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” died Sunday at the age of 87. He died at his home in Albuquerque. New Mexico, for natural reasons, said Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“There was just no one like Bobby Unser,” says Roger Penske, now the Speedway owner. “Apart from his many victories and successes, Bobby was a real racing driver who increased the performance of everyone around him. He was also one of the most colorful characters in motorsport. “
Ours was a member of one of America’s most famous racing families and one of the greatest drivers in speedway history, winning the races in 1968, 1975 and 1981.
“It’s part of the Mount Rushmore of Indy,” said Dario Franchitti, another three-time Indy 500 winner.
Unser’s last Indy 500 win in a Penske entry was one of the most controversial outcomes and remains controversial to this day.
Unser won from pole position, beating Mario Andretti by 5.18 seconds, but the officials decided that when we left the pit lane, our illegally passed cars under a warning – and drew a penalty that docked him one position and made Andretti the winner .
Penske and Unser appealed and, after a lengthy process, the sentence was overturned in October of that year.
“Bobby was never acquitted of the violation and the USAC, which at the time was only Indianapolis’ s sanctions agency, was a very weak organization,” Andretti said on Monday. “Roger Penske’s attorneys were much smarter than USAC attorneys. And that’s a fact: Bobby committed the offense. But under the circumstances the punishment was too severe. “
Ours in the end was fined $ 40,000 and declared the winner for the 35th and final win of his career.
Andretti, who notoriously won only once at Indy, told The Associated Press on Monday that he still wears the 1981 winning ring that was presented to him at the banquet the day after the race, instead of the ring from his 1969 win.
“Every time I’ve seen Bobby I’ve flashed my 81 ring, it’s the one I’m wearing, I’ve never returned it. I would just rub it on his ear, ”said Andretti, who added that he last spoke to Unser about three weeks ago.
Ours was one of six members of the Unser family who competed in the Indianapolis 500 races; an older brother, Jerry, died in a crash while preparing for the 1959 Indy 500.
Al Unser is one of only three drivers to win the Indy 500 four times – 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987. Our family tradition extended to Al Our son, Al Unser Jr., who won Indy in 1992 and 1994.
Bobby Unser was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado on February 20, 1934, and moved to New Mexico with his family as a child. His father owned a garage on Route 66 and his three brothers grew up with old jalopies before dropping out of high school at 15 and starting his racing career at Roswell New Mexico Speedway.
After two years in the US Air Force from 1953 to 1955 – a time he was proud of – our full-time turned to racing, which became a mighty career. His family was legendary at Pikes Peak International in Colorado – nicknamed “Unsers’ Peak” for their ability in the annual hill climb – but “Uncle Bobby” was the best. He dominated with 13 championships, including six in a row from 1958 to 1963.
In Indy, one of the most difficult and demanding racetracks in the world, ours was magical.
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. Our achieved 10 top 10 placements in 19 career starts. He led in 10 races over a total of 440 laps, which is still in 10th place on the all-time list. He won two poles, 1972 and 1981, and had nine front row starts.
Franchitti spent time on the racetrack or over dinner with other previous winners each year, saying ours was “always the greatest personality in pretty much any room”.
“He showed up on the speedway and no matter when he did the last race, he still understood the race and what it takes to win the race and he was still so insightful,” said Franchitti. “He loved the Indy 500 so much. He loved coming back. “
The exclusive former winners club gathers annually in Indy – the pandemic cut the tradition last year – to commemorate their speedway days. Ours always held its place among the giants of motorsport, no one ever took the deadly dangers of Indianapolis for granted.
“He was a fun guy and he liked to talk and take a lot of things lightly and always had great conversations, especially over dinner in Indy where everyone meets. We’d meet for a steak downtown, ”said Andretti. “The fact that we survived at all. We lost so many. We avoided a bullet. “
After his driving career, Unser switched to a 20 year broadcast career and won an Emmy Award as part of the ABC Sports Broadcast Team for Outstanding Live Sports Special for his coverage of the 1989 Indianapolis 500.
He was in the locker room in 1987 when he called Brother Al’s record-breaking fourth 500 win, and again in 1992 when nephew Al Unser Jr. Indy won the closest 500 finish for the first time. When his television career ended, Unser continued to visit the Speedway every May. He was a driver trainer who supported the racing strategy in 1998 and 1999 when son Robby Unser finished fifth and eighth.
Ours leaves his wife Lisa; Sons Bobby Jr. and Robby; and daughters Cindy and Jeri.
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