Bobby Unser

Automobile Racer

born February 20, 1934

Paradise Pisces Secondbaseman

Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico into a family with car racing already in their blood, Bobby Unser went on to become one of the premier race car drivers in United States history.

Bobby Unser won the Indianapolis 500 racing contest three times (1968, 1975, 1981). He has also won the California 500 race three times and the Pocono 500 once. He won the United States Auto Club's (USAC) National Driving Championship in 1968 and 1974. Also in 1974 he was named the "Martini & Rossi Driver of the Year."

In 1981 after his controversial third win at the Indy 500, Bobby Unser retired from racing. In 1990 he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

In addition to the Indy 500 (which his brother Al Unser, Sr. has won four times) the Unser family has been winning awards for three generations at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb event. Bobby's Uncle Louis started racing at Pikes Peak in 1926 and won the race nine times. This total is surpassed only by Bobby himself who ran his first Pikes Peak race in 1956 and went on to win the event a record 13 times. Third-generation Unsers who have competed at Pikes Peak include Bobby's sons (Bobby, Jr. and Robbie) and nephew Al Unser, Jr.

Bobby Unser started racing in cars in 1949 when at the age of fifteen he demonstrated his racing skills by winning races in modified stock cars. His Indianapolis 500 career began in 1962 when he drove for Andy Granatelli's race team. His first race at Indianapolis came in 1963 but it ended during the third lap when his Hotel Tropicana Las Vegas Novi Special hit the wall.

Unser was in the Indy 500 race every year from 1963 to 1981. His first victory came in 1968 when he drove a Rislone front-engine car and averaged 152.882 miles per hour (MPH). The second Indy 500 victory came seven years later in 1975. Unser drove a rear-engine Jorgensen Eagle and averaged 149.213 MPH. The 1975 race was shortened to 435 miles because of rain.

Unser's 1981 Indy 500 victory was controversial. Driving for Roger Penske's team in the Norton Sprint Penske PC-9B he averaged 139.084 miles per hour and finished the race in 3 hours, 35 minutes and 41 seconds. However, it took six months for Unser to be formally acknowledged the winner of the race. Mario Andretti was initially awarded the victor's cup after chief race steward Tom Binford issued Unser a 10 lap penalty for passing ten cars while exiting the pit lane when the field was under a yellow caution flag. The United States Auto Club (USAC) eventually ruled that Binford's penalty was too severe and imposed a $45,000 fine instead. With the ten lap penalty removed, Unser was declared the race's winner. It was his third and last Indy 500 race. Soon after he announced his formal retirement from driving race cars.

All in all Unser started in 19 Indy 500 races for a total of 2,611 laps. He led the field for 440 lof those aps. He is the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in three different decades. He was the first to exceed 190 miles per hour at the track in 1971 during qualifying rounds. He is fourth on the all time Indy-type car victory list.

Controversy has followed Unser off the track as well as on the track. In 1994 he had a run-in with police outside the Albuquerque, New Mexico airport. He was pulled over for, what else? Speeding. The police officers claimed Unser became hostile and belligerent. In November 1995 Unser's nephew Jeff was found dead, shot to death. The murderer, Steven Bartlett, was eventually found guilty of the crime. In December, 1996 Unser and a friend got lost for two days in the mountains of northern New Mexico near his home in Chama. He was eventually rescued but more controversy developed when the federal government accused Unser of illegally operating a snowmobile on protected federal land.

A recent review of Bobby Unser memorabilia on the Internet indicates that a signed Unser photo can be bought for about $16. Author Joe Scalzo published in 1979 The Bobby Unser Story and it is currently out-of-print. An Internet book search revealed unsigned copies are available for around $25. Signed editions of this authorized biography are available in the $50 to $150 range.


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Bobby Unser 1999 Cosmic Player Plate
Published: August 24, 1999
Copyright © 1999 by the Cosmic Baseball Association