Robert William Unser, better known as Bobby Unser, has passed away at the age of 87. Unser was one of the great American legends of motorsport.
How do you define an American legend of motorsport? We’re not sure, but three separate wins of the world-hallowed Indianapolis 500, spread across four decades, probably exceeds the criteria. He’s one of only two drivers to have Indy wins in three different decades.
The Unser name was a staple in American open-wheel racing for decades, with Bobby featuring on USAC and latterly CART grids between 1955 and 1982. Between them, the Unser family has a staggering nine Indy 500 wins to its credit. Bobby helped cement names like Eagle and Penske in their early days at Indy, winning twice with the former in 1968 and 1975 and once with the latter in 1981. His first race in IndyCars came in the 1962 season, while his first race win came at Mosport in 1967.
His final single-seater race came 19 years on from his 1962 debut, in 1981. He departed following his final and controversial Indy win. That win wasn’t always his, having courted controversy with overtakes under a safety car. It would be four months before it was reinstated, though penance for Unser came in the form of a $40,000 fine. A bad taste in the mouth and reason enough for Bobby to close that chapter in his career. He was reunited with his winning Penske PC9B here at the Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard, 30 years on, in 2011.
Off the circuit and up The Mountain, Bobby also had ten wins at the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb to his name. They join a number of drives in NASCAR and Stock Cars early on, and indeed two F1 starts with BRM.
Though no longer on the grid, Unser wasn’t far away, forging a successful career in broadcasting following his retirement from racing, working with NBC, ABC, ESPN and more. More than a legend, Bobby Unser was a pillar in American single-seater history and motorsport as a whole.