Born To Race
Robert William Unser was born on February 20, 1934 in Colorado Springs, Colorado to a family destined to race. His grandfather, Louis Unser, was a mechanic whose three sons were the first to ride up Pike's Peak, a 14,110 foot high mountain on the edge of the Great Plains, in the 1920s. This was the first race of what
would become an annual tradition. Of the 40 competitors, only the Unser boys made it to the top. The Unsers dominated both Pike's Peak and the racing profession in the years to come.
One of the Pike's Peak pioneers, Jerry Unser, married schoolteacher Mary Craven and had four sons—fraternal twins Jerry, Jr. and Louie, Robert (known as Bobby), and Al Unser, Sr. In 1956 Jerry Unser moved his family to Albuquerque, New Mexico where he opened a garage and gas station called Jerry Unser Motors on Route 66. His four boys helped him in the garage. The boys bought an old Model A Ford from their father, fixed it up, and began driving. When the boys were teenagers they began driving racecars on the short tracks in New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona.
Jerry, Jr., Bobby Unser's older brother, became the first Unser racecar champion, winning the 1957 United States Auto Club (USAC) stock car championship. Tragically he died in 1959 from a crash during a practice run for the Indianapolis 500. Louie Unser, Bobby's other older brother, started a racing career but was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was unable to continue racing. This left racing open to the two younger Unser boys. At age 16, Bobby Unser won his first race at the Southwest Modified Stock Car Championship, which he won again the following year.
In 1953 Unser enlisted in the United States Air Force, a decision he later regretted because he had wanted to spend more time racing. He trained at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming where he studied automotives. He continued racing during his free time and his brother Louie served as his manager. After basic training Unser pulled some strings to get stationed in Albuquerque so that he could pursue his racing career. In 1954 he married his first wife, Barbara Schumaker, and the couple had two children together. Unser finished his military service in 1955 and then focused solely on racing.
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