Bobby Unser

Full Name:
Robert William Unser
Born:
20th February 1934 (Age 84)
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

The third son of Albuquerque garage owner Jerry Unser, Bobby and his younger brother Al grew up with racing in their blood. Both would win Indycar’s National Championship and become multiple-winners in the Indianapolis 500.

Early racing career

Bobby Unser raced his father’s modified stock cars from the age of 15 years old. State champion in 1950 and 1951, he switched to midgets and then stock cars. Victory in the Indycar class in the 1956 Pikes Peak hillclimb continued a family tradition of success in that event that had been established by nine-time outright winner "Uncle Louie" Unser.

Further success in his local hillclimb and sprint car success continued into the 1960s. He qualified as a pilot before making his debut in the Indianapolis 500 in 1963 – crashing a Kurtis-Novi early in the race. Performances among America’s open-wheel big league were initially unremarkable, although he finished second at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1965 when his rear-engine Huffaker-Offenhauser was beaten by rising star Mario Andretti.

Success at Pikes Peak and Indianapolis

He was also second behind his brother at Pikes Peak that year with the hillclimb part of what is now the IndyCar Series once more. So when Bobby’s Unser-Chevrolet won the event in 1966 it was his first victory in the USAC National Championship.

He drove an Eagle-Ford for A.J.Watson’s Leader Card Racers in 1967 – winning both races in a double-header at Mosport Park and finishing third in the standings. 1968 was his finest season in the sport so far. His new Rislone Eagle won three of the first four races and he then qualified on the outside of the front row for the Indianapolis 500. He led the race early on but gearbox problems looked to have handed victory to Joe Leonard’s Lotus gas turbine. However, Leonard retired with nine laps to go and Unser recovered to win the race for the first time.

That season was used as the backdrop for the filming of Paul Newman’s Winning with Unser’s car doubling as the actor’s machine in the movie. Unser continued his winning ways with another victory at Pikes Peak as he clinched the Indycar title for the first time.

Formula 1 with BRM

He also entered two F1 Grands Prix that autumn with BRM. However, he was refused a start at Monza as he had raced at the Indiana State Fairgrounds just a day earlier and he proved disappointing in the United States GP at Watkins Glen before his BRM P138’s engine failed.

Unser continued with Leader Card for the next two Indycar seasons and he finished as runner-up to his brother in 1970. With Dan Gurney retiring from driving, Unser was his replacement at All American Racers in 1971. His five seasons with the team were frustrating at first for Unser’s works Eagles proved fast but fragile too often to be a championship contender.

His Olsonite-sponsored entry started from pole position in all bar two races entered during 1972 (including the Indianapolis 500 when he retired while pulling away) and won on the four occasions it held together. However, mechanical failures left him only eighth in the final standings.

Two-time National Champion and Indy 500 winner

His luck changed in 1974 when Unser only suffered one breakage and his Eagle-Offenhauser finished in the top five everywhere else. Those included four victories and second place at Indy as he won the Indycar title for a second time. He then won the 1975 Indianapolis 500 when heavy rain forced the race to be stopped after 174 laps.

That was his final season with Gurney’s Eagle-Offy as he switched to Fletcher Racing’s privately run car for 1976. He won twice that year but then endured two winless campaigns (having returned to AAR in 1978).

Controversial third Indianapolis win

A fine test driver, Unser joined Penske Racing for 1979 and helped develop the team’s PC7 chassis. The result was a Penske 1-2 in the newly CART-sanctioned series with Unser finishing as runner-up behind young team-mate Rick Mears. Second again in 1980, he enjoyed a controversial third success at Indy in 1981.

His Penske PC9B-Cosworth started from pole position and beat Andretti’s Wildcat by 5.22 seconds. However, Unser had appeared to pass 11 cars while exiting the pits during a caution period and he was penalised. Andretti posed for the traditional winner’s photograph on the following morning but 138 days later the result was overturned with Unser declared the winner.

Unser spent 1982 running Josele Garza’s Champ Car team but he soon regretted that move. "I made a bad decision," he later said. "Managing anybody but an Unser is wrong for me." So plans were made to return to driving as part of Patrick Racing’s 1983 line-up. However, he crashed during a test at Phoenix and reversed that decision.

He retired having won 35 races, two titles and the coveted Indy 500 on three occasions (each in a different decade). As well as working in television, Unser became a development driver for Audi and won Pikes Peak for a 10th time in 1986 with the mighty Audi Quattro S1. With that success he surpassed his uncle’s record in his final outing.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1981 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Penske Racing
11 3 3 0
0% win rate
7th 99
1980 CART/PPG Indycar World Series
Penske Racing
11 (1) 4 8 4
37% win rate
2nd 3714
1979 SCCA/CART Indycar Championship
Penske Racing
13 7 9 6
47% win rate
2nd 3820
1979 USAC National Championship
Penske Racing
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
500
1978 USAC Citicorp Cup National Championship
All-American Racers
16 0 1 0
0% win rate
12th 1122
1977 USAC Citicorp Cup National Championship
Fletcher Racing Team
10 2 0 0
0% win rate
35th 75
1976 USAC Citicorp Cup National Championship
Fletcher Racing Team
9 1 3 2
23% win rate
6th 2080
1975 USAC National Championship
All-American Racers
Sugaripe Prune Racing Team
7 1 4 1
15% win rate
3rd 2480
1975 SCCA/USAC F5000 Championship
All-American Racers
2 0 0 0
0% win rate
21st 5
1975 International Race Of Champions 1st -
1974 USAC National Championship
All-American Racers
13 2 10 4
31% win rate
1st 4870
1974 SCCA/USAC F5000 Championship
All-American Racers
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1973 USAC National Championship
All-American Racers
13 3 2 1
8% win rate
12th 1108
1972 USAC National Championship
All-American Racers
9 7 4 4
45% win rate
8th 1500
1971 USAC National Championship
All-American Racers
11 7 3 2
19% win rate
6th 1805
1970 USAC National Championship
Leader Card Racers
Don Gerhardt
All-American Racers
15 1 5 1
7% win rate
2nd 2260
1969 USAC National Championship
Leader Card Racers
21 2 5 1
5% win rate
3rd 2585
1968 F1 World Championship
Owen Racing Organisation
1 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1968 USAC National Championship
Leader Card Racers
Bobby Unser
25 3 12 5
20% win rate
1st 4330
1967 USAC National Championship
Weinberger & Welseck Enterprises
Leader Card Racers
Bobby Unser
21 6 9 2
10% win rate
3rd 3020
1966 USAC National Championship
Leader Card Racers
Gordon van Liew
Weinberger & Welseck Enterprises
Jim Robbins
Bobby Unser
15 2 2 1
7% win rate
6th 1210
1965 USAC National Championship
Gordon van Liew
Jerry Unser
Lee S Glessner
STP Corporation
18 0 3 0
0% win rate
7th 1402
1964 USAC National Championship
Lynch
Gordon van Liew
STP Corporation
Pete Salemi
12 0 0 0
0% win rate
14th 470
1963 USAC National Championship
Novi Racing
Lysle Greenman
4 0 0 0
0% win rate
25th 100
1955 AAA National Championship
Jerry Unser
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
31st 100