Legends of the 500: Bobby Unser

Published On March 26, 2016 » 2045 Views» By John Schwarb » Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 64 days to go, we look back at one of the race’s most enduring champions.

More Legends: Wilbur ShawMauri Rose | Louis Meyer | Johnny RutherfordMore 100 days

Many of the Indianapolis 500’s greatest champions showed their talents far beyond the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. A.J. Foyt was a stock car champion at Daytona, an endurance star at Le Mans and Daytona and a USAC sprints and midget ace. Mario Andretti was a Formula One champion and a Daytona 500 winner.

And Bobby Unser was a champion going up as well as going left, if you will.

The three-time Indy 500 champ – a winner in three decades, a feat only matched by Rick Mears – was a 13-time champion in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, a century-old test of machine and bravery up roughly 10,000 feet of a Colorado mountainside.

Prowess on the mountain ran in the family, as Bobby’s father Louis was a nine-time champion and brother Al also was a multiple winner. The family domination continued at Indy, where of course Al won four times to Bobby’s three, and Al Unser Jr. added two more titles. (So many fans call Bobby “Uncle Bobby;” Al Jr. does it legitimately.)

Bobby’s Indy history started slow with a last-place finish in 1963 and second-to-last run in 1964, but before the decade was out he would have his first title, in 1968. In 1972 he won the pole with a qualifying record of 195.94 mph, and in 1975 he would win a second “500.” The third title came in 1981, where at age 47 Bobby became the race’s oldest winner. That mark lasted until 1987 when (who else) Al won five days before his 48th birthday.

Bobby Unser drove a Novi in his first Indy start, in 1963.

Bobby Unser drove a Novi in his first Indy start, in 1963.

The first win, 1968.

The first win, 1968.

Bobby became the race's oldest winner in 1981, a mark that lasted six years under brother Al topped it.

Bobby became the race’s oldest winner in 1981, a mark that lasted six years under brother Al topped it.

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About The Author

John Schwarb

I joined the Indianapolis Motor Speedway communications team in July 2014 and love sharing stories from the World Capital of Racing, particularly its rich history. Most of my professional career has been in racing or golf, so if I'm not in the IMS media center, the office at 16th and Georgetown or milling around Gasoline Alley, maybe I'll be standing over a birdie putt at Brickyard Crossing. Follow us at @IMS or drop me a line at @JohnSchwarb and come back to the blog often for more stories.
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