Time Capsule Tuesday - Bobby Unser

April 26, 2016

Team Penske will be celebrating our 50th anniversary in motorsports in 2016. To bring you some of the terrific stories of our five-decade run of excellence, Team Penske is running weekly online features highlighting some of our drivers and our key events. We hope you enjoy this memorable time in our history.

From the first family of American open-wheel racing, “Uncle Bobby” Unser won the 1981 Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske behind the wheel of the No. 3 Norton Spirit Penske chassis. Unser finished as runner up in the INDYCAR championship standings in 1979 and 1980, posting 10 wins and 17 podium finishes combined for Team Penske over those two seasons. His remarkable stats with Team Penske include: 37 starts, 11 wins and 15 pole positions.

Bobby Unser was born on February 20, 1934 in Colorado Springs, Colorado and the third son of Jerry and Mary Unser. Unser began his racing career driving his father’s cars in the annual Mexican road race at age 15. Unser’s goal in his early racing career was to win at Pike’s Peak, making that dream a reality by the young age of 22 in 1956.

In 1963, Unser made his first trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and raced to an impressive third-place finish, reaching victory lane for the first time at the historic track in 1968 and setting a new track record in the process. In 1972, Unser set the fastest qualifying run at Indianapolis at 195.94 miles per hour. In 1975, Unser won his second Indy 500. It was not until 1979 that Unser joined Team Penske. 

During the 1979 race season, Unser made 14 starts for Team Penske and completed 96.9 percent of laps contested. Unser completed the season with six wins and finished second in points for Team Penske.  Unser would have a similar success in 1980, a season with four wins, eight podium finishes and another second-place finish in points. 

On May 24, 1981, Unser won Team Penske’s third Indy 500 in the 65th running of the race.  Many consider this to be one of the most controversial races in Indy history. Unser took the checkered flag as the winner, with Mario Andretti finishing runner up. After the race concluded, USAC officials ruled that Unser had passed cars illegally while exiting the pit area during a caution on lap 149. Unser was subsequently issued a one-position penalty. The next morning, the official race results were posted, and Unser was dropped to second place and Andretti declared the race winner.

After a lengthy protest and appeals process, the penalty was rescinded, and Unser was reinstated the victory on October 9. Officially, it became Unser's third-career Indy 500 victory and his final win in INDYCAR competition. Unser stepped out of the car at the end of the season, and ultimately retired from driving. Unser is one of ten drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 three or more times, and one of only two (followed by Rick Mears) to have won the 500 in three different decades (1968, 1975, 1981).