Racing, Writers Alike Will Miss Straight Shooter Bobby Unser

·3 min read
Photo credit: Bernard Cahier - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bernard Cahier - Getty Images

Now that it’s been several days since Bobby Unser passed away on May 2, a thousand stories have been told about him.

Here’s one more.

Just over 10 years ago, the Boca Raton Concours imported a massive number of automotive personalities to Florida, including three racing Unsers—Bobby, his brother Al and Al’s son, Little Al, nine Indianapolis 500 wins between them.

It was unusual to have an opportunity to interview all three, so I took it, showing up just after a presentation concluded that featured the three Unsers on an outdoor stage, discussing their racing careers and taking questions from the audience, moderated by a man whose name you would know. The moderator was a friend, and I greeted him as he walked off the stage. Actually stalked off the stage would be more accurate.

“Give me my damn check and let me get out of here,” he said tersely.

Uh oh. What happened?

Photo credit: PhotoQuest - Getty Images
Photo credit: PhotoQuest - Getty Images

“I thought I was moderating a discussion with all three Unsers, but it turned out to be only one," the moderator said. "No matter who the question was for, Bobby ended up answering it.”

Thirty seconds later he was gone, and it was time for me to start Unser-interviewing. I found Al, and got a solid five minutes on tape of, “Yes, no, it was an honor, there are some great drivers out there, I can’t pick out just one as the best, here’s your hat, don’t let the door hit you…”

No, of course it wasn’t that bad, but Al is from the steely generation, where actions speak louder than words. But there was no action, so I was done.

Next, Al Jr., who I’ve always found to be a thoughtful, pleasant interview, even when things weren’t going well for him. I once rode on his bus, with his family, from one racetrack to another, and became a genuine Al Jr. fan as he told tales and chain-smoked Marlboros, which fortunately was his sponsor—he had a dozen cartons of them, just in case some law enforcement officer measured his bus and the toy trailer he was hauling and found it a bit lengthy, regulations-wise. A carton of smokes passed out the window might result in a favorable re-measurement.

Anyway, back to Boca: I spent maybe 20 minutes with Junior, getting just what I hoped—we had some history together and that shortened the preliminaries.

Then I went to find Bobby Unser, one of just two racers to win the Indianapolis 500 in three different decades (1968, 1975 and 1981). He was sitting down, talking to several people, and I sat down and introduced myself and we were immediate old friends. I had put a new tape in the recorder, fortunately, because Bobby talk for almost an hour as the audience around us swelled and waned, swelled and waned. “Steve, you wouldn’t believe the officiating in that race...

“Steve, there’s no telling what would have happened if that tire and blown...

“Steve, Sam Posey and I once…

“Steve, I’m sorry you have to go. I was just hitting my stride!”

We don’t have a Bobby Unser now. Paul Tracy, kind of, but he doesn’t have the depth and breath of Bobby’s experience. We’re desperate for race drivers who will talk, and actually say something.

Bobby Unser said something. He will be missed.

Funeral Service

A funeral service celebrating the life of Bobby Unser will be held at Calvary Chapel, 4001 Osuna Road Northeast, Albuquerque, on May 11 at 11:00 a.m. A gravesite internment will follow at Sunset Memorial Park, 924 Menaul Blvd. NE, Albuquerque.

Flowers may be sent to French Funeral Home, 1111 University Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, 87102. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to a charity or organization of your choice in the name of Bobby Unser.

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