Bobby Unser, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and part of the only pair of brothers to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” has died. He was 87. Indianapolis Motor Speedway said he died Sunday at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, of natural causes. Unser won the Indy 500 in 1968, 1975, and 1981.
His younger brother, Al, is one of only three four-time Indy 500 winners in race history. Al Unser won the race in 1970, 1971, 1978, and 1987. The Unser family tradition stretched to Al Unser’s son, Al Unser Jr., who won the Indy 500 in 1992 and 1994. “Bobby was a ferocious competitor on the track, and his larger-than-life personality made him one of the most beloved and unique racers we have ever seen,” said Roger Penske, the current owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway but the team owner for Unser’s 1981 Indy 500 winning car.
“Beyond his many wins and accomplishments, Bobby was a true racer that raised the performance of everyone around him. He was also one of the most colorful characters in motorsports.”
Bobby Unser was born Feb. 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 brother grew up tooling around in old jalopies before he began his racing career in 1949 at Roswell, New Mexico Speedway.
After two years in the U.S. Air Force from 1953 to 1955 – a stint for which he was always proud – Unser turned to race full time and became one of the greatest racers in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history. He was one of just 10 drivers to win the 500 at least three times, and Unser and Rick Mears are the only drivers to win the 500 in three different decades. Unser was one of six members of the Unser family to race in the Indianapolis 500. His final Indy 500 victory in 1981 came in a Penske entry in one of the most contentious outcomes. Unser won from the pole and beat Mario Andretti by 5.18 seconds. Still, officials ruled Unser passed cars illegally while exiting the pit lane under caution – drawing a penalty that docked him one position and moved Andretti to the winner.