Three time Indy 500 champ Bobby Unser passes away at age 87

Photo Credit: Dana Garrett

IndyCar legend Bobby Unser passed away in his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico Sunday night at the age of 87.

Unser won the Indianapolis 500 three times (1968, 1975 and 1981) and along with Rick Mears is only one two drivers to win the 500 in three decades.

His IndyCar career stands amongst the greats with 35 wins and 52 poles. He also was a legend at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb earning 13 class wins along with 10 “King of the Mountain” honors.

His Indy 500 stats are equally as astounding with 10 top 10s in 19 starts and leading 440 laps – good for 10th on the all-time list.

Bobby was of six family members to race at IMS. Brother Al and nephew Al Jr. scored wins in the Indy 500. Son Robby and nephew Johnny also competed in the race. Elder brother Jerry died in a practice crash in 1959.

Unser was born in Colorado Springs in 1934, the third of four brothers, two of whom Al and Jerry went on to race. His family relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico a year later.

He began his racing career in 1949 at Roswell Speedway and claimed his first championship at Speedway Park in Albuquerque in Modified Stock Cars a year later.

He and brothers Al and Jerry moved up to USAC in 1956 and Bobby moved to Indy car competition in 1962. He made his Indy 500 debut in 1963 where he qualified 15th but finished 33rd after a crash.

His first IndyCar came win in 1967 at what is now known as Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and scored his first of three Indianapolis 500 wins in 1968 driving for Bob Wilke.

The list of owners Unser drove for is a who’s who of IndyCar owners – Oscar Olson, Earle Jorgensen, Robert Fletcher, Dan Gurney and Roger Penske.

His final career win became a topic of Indy 500 controversy and lore as he was initially stripped of his win after USAC officials deemed he illegally passed cars under the caution.

Mario Andretti was promoted to the race winner while Penske and Unser appealed the decision. Five months of litigation followed and USAC re-instated the win – replacing the penalty with a $40,000 fine.

Despite being granted the win, Unser stepped away from racing the following season but remained a fixture in the paddock working as a television commentator primarily alongside Paul Page and Sam Posey.

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

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