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Bobby Unser, Indy 500 champion of famous racing family, dies at 87

Bobby Unser, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and one of the only pair of brothers to win “The Greatest Show in the Race” has passed away. He was 87 years old.

He died at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Sunday of natural causes, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway said on Monday.

Unser was one of the greatest racers in speedway history, capturing the race in 1968, 1975 and 1981.

“He’s part of the Mount Rushmore of Indy,” said Dario Franchitti, another three-time Indy 500 winner.

Bobby Unser competes in the United States Grand Prix held at Watkins Glen, New York on October 6, 1968.Alvis Upitis / Getty Images file

Younger brother Al Unser is one of only three drivers to have won the Indy 500 four times – 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987. The Unser family tradition has extended to Al Unser’s son Al Unser Jr., who won the Indy 500 in 1992 and 1994..

“Bobby was a fierce competitor on the track, and his larger than life personality made him one of the most loved and unique racers we’ve ever seen,” said Roger Penske, the current owner of the speedway but the owner. from Unser’s winning car team. at the 1981 Indy 500.

“Beyond his many victories and achievements, Bobby was a true runner who improved the performance of everyone around him. He was also one of the most colorful figures in motorsport. “

Bobby Unser was born February 20, 1934 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and moved with his family as a child to New Mexico. His father owned a garage along Route 66 and his three brothers grew up in old envy before dropping out of high school at age 15 and starting his racing career at Roswell New Mexico Speedway.

After two years in the US Air Force from 1953 to 1955 – a stint he was proud of – Unser turned to full-time racing in what has become a powerful career.

Racing driver Bobby Unser famous after winning the Indianapolis 500 on May 24, 1981. He was then penalized by one lap and stripped of the title.Bettmann Archives via Getty Images

He was one of 10 drivers to have won 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 was one of six members of the Unser family to race in the Indianapolis 500.

Franchitti spent time each year at the speedway or at a dinner party with other past winners and said Unser was “always the biggest personality in just about any room.”

“He showed up on the speedway and regardless of his last race he always understood the race and what it took to win the race and he was always so insightful,” said Franchitti. “He loved the Indy 500 so much. He loved coming back.

Unser’s last Indy 500 victory in 1981 came from Penske’s entry in one of the most controversial results. Unser won from pole and beat Mario Andretti by 5.18 seconds, but officials ruled that Unser had passed cars illegally while exiting the pit lane under caution – taking a penalty that tied him up. one position and moved Andretti to the winner.

Penske and Unser appealed and, after a lengthy process, the sanction was overturned in October of the same year. It was the 35th and final victory of Unser’s career.

At Indianapolis, Unser has produced 10 Top 10 finishes in 19 career starts. He led in 10 races for a total of 440 laps, which to date ranks 10th on the all-time list. He won two poles, in 1972 and 1981, and had nine front row starts.

“When you talk about racing icons, and in particular the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Bobby Unser was a legend,” said Doug Boles, president of the speedway. “He could drive and win, in any type of car and on any type of track. . And he was magical to Indy.

Following his racing career, Unser moved on to a 20-year career in broadcasting and won an Emmy Award on the ABC Sports Broadcast Team for “Outstanding Live Sports Special” for his coverage of the 1989 Indianapolis 500.

He was on the stand in 1987 when he announced his brother Al’s record fourth victory in the 500m, and again in 1992 when his nephew Al Unser Jr. first won Indy in the nearest 500m. . At the end of his television career, Unser continued to visit the speedway each May. He was a driver trainer who assisted on racing strategy in 1998 and 1999 when his son Robby Unser finished fifth and eighth.

Unser is survived by his wife, Lisa; sons Bobby Jr. and Robby; and daughters Cindy and Jeri.

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