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Bobby Unser

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

Bobby Unser

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.


1934 Born on February 20 in Colorado Springs, Colorado
1949 Begins racing stock cars
1950 Wins first championship, Southwest Modified Stock Car Championship
1952 Starts racing midget and sprint cars
1953-55 Serves in the United States Air Force
1954 Marries Barbara Schumaker
1955 Debuts at Pike's Peak Hill Climb and places fifth
1956 Wins first of 13 Pike's Peak Hill Climbs
1959 Brother Jerry Unser, Jr. dies of injuries from crash during Indianapolis 500 practice
1963 Races in first Indianapolis 500 and places thirty-third
1966 Divorces Barbara Schumaker
1967 Marries Norma Davis
1967 Wins first Indy-car race at Mosport, Ontario
1968 Wins first Indianapolis 500 and sets fastest track record
1969 Becomes United States Auto Club National Driving Champion
1970 Divorces Norma Davis
1972 Sets fastest qualifying run at Indianapolis at 195.94 miles per hour
1976 Marries Marsha Sale
1979 Wins six races for the Championship Auto Racing Teams
1980 First driver to win four times at the California 500
1981 Wins controversial third Indianapolis 500
1982 Announces retirement from Indy car racing
1983 Owns and manages car that wins Pike's Peak Hill Climb, driven by Al Unser, Jr.
1987 Becomes television commentator for ABC Sports
1990 Patents new radar detector for cars
1990 Inducted into Auto Racing Hall of Fame
1991 Races in 24 Hours of Daytona with brother Al, nephew Al, Jr., and son Bobby
1993 Sets new land speed record of 223.709 miles per hour in a gas-modified roadster
1994 Inducted into International Motorsports Hall of Fame
1994 Arrested for misdemeanor battery, resisting arrest, and careless driving
1996 Gets lost for two days in Rio Grande National Forest after snowmobile breaks down
1997 Convicted of driving snowmobile in federally protected wildlife area and fined $75
2000 Inducted into Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame
2001 Writes column for Sports Afield magazine

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