But the essence of Bobby Unser was this personality. This bombardment. This sure attitude. This eternal belief, everything he said was true, or at least nearby. Ask him a question, you have an unfiltered answer.
AJ Foyt: “Great, great driver but a great tyrant. “
Mario Andretti: “As good as anyone who has ever sat in a race car but a little tough on the equipment.”
Parnelli Jones: “The best I have ever seen.”
Gordon Johncock: “Hard to beat, but if he had known anything about a chassis he would have won a lot more races.”
Brother Al Unser Sr: “Really, really smart in a race car. I didn’t know much about them, but when the car was right it was almost impossible to beat it.
Johnny Rutherford: “Excellent in a sprint car. Aggressive and fast but crushed a lot of Indy cars.
The Magnificent 7 is now reduced to six. We’re so lucky that all of those badasses and heroes are still alive in their 80s, but the one thing we should never lose sight of is why so many fans turned to Uncle Bobby.
He spoke to anyone who ever approached him, signed everything, posed for endless photos and acted like he remembered meeting ‘Ol’ Joe in Trenton in 1970. ‘He did in so that people feel appreciated and are part of the conversation – just like Mario does.
“I would never tell him that, but he taught me something very good and very valuable back when we were racing at Pikes Peak in the ’60s,” said the Indianapolis 500 winner in 1969. “He was always with a lot of people and I just remembered how kind and good he was to the fans. It never left me.
“Bobby was a good guy.”
Unser had a nickname for his Italian-born rival that didn’t fit modern sensibilities well, but it was supposed to be a show of affection, not an insult, and there was no offense from the guy he was riding. and went down the highway. with for 20 years. Their intensity and desire to lead each turn made them almost twins.
“We were very similar, we both wanted to lead every lap and get everything out of the car, and I think our styling would have been good today,” continues Andretti.
“The friendships lasted back then. We would be there trying to kill each other, then we would go have a beer later. We had so many good times off the track and the camaraderie was so real, and I know we always enjoyed the fact that we were still on our feet.
Whether it was going back and forth between the Hoosier Hundred and the Italian Grand Prix on the same weekend, racing rental cars or laughing at the practical joke they came from. playing another pilot, Bobby and Mario were best friends until the Indy 500 contested in 1981..
It was not so much a cold war as it was a cold one between them. Graceful in public, but no social interaction to speak of until 2013. PR maven Steve Shunck hosted his annual Borg-Warner dinner two nights before the race with Parnelli, JR and Unser, spotted Mario downstairs and invited him over. to join the boys. It was magical; 90 minutes of two old friends telling each other stories, laughing and giving each other the needle.
“I think he still loves me,” Unser said a few days later.
Time, age and distance separated them except in May, but they kept in touch periodically by phone. When Andretti called Bobby on his 85th birthday he admitted he had a little “teardrop in his eye” and we couldn’t wait to tell Mario.
The past few months have been tough and Unser has never got out of bed as his wife Lisa has done a masterful job of making him as comfortable as possible. At first he was reluctant to have daycare twice a week (“too expensive”) but even the multimillionaire finally realized he needed help. The last time we spoke he said to make sure Penske knew he was available to drive the race car, but his lucid moments were scarce over the past six weeks. It was time for this icon to move on, as no one lived on the edge longer than Rapid Robert.
“Life goes on,” says Mario. “But our gang lost a big one. ”