He died Sunday at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, of natural causes, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway said Monday. Unser won the Indy 500 in 1968, 1975 and 1981.
“He is part of the Mount Rushmore of Indy,” said Dario Franchitti, another three-time Indy 500 winner.
“Bobby was a ferocious competitor on the track, and his larger-than-life personality made him one of the most beloved and unique racers we have ever seen,” said Roger Penske, the current owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway but the team owner for Unser’s 1981 Indy 500 winning car.
“Beyond his many wins and accomplishments, Bobby was a true racer that raised the performance of everyone around him. He was also one of the most colorful characters in motorsports.”
Bobby Unser was born Feb. 20, 1934, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but moved with his family as a child to New Mexico. His father owned a garage along Route 66 and he and his brother grew up tooling around in old jalopies before he began his racing career in 1949 at Roswell (New Mexico) Speedway.
After two years in the U.S. Air Force from 1953 to 1955 — a stint for which he was always proud — Unser turned to racing full time and became one of the greatest racers in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history.
He was one of just 10 drivers to win the 500 at least three times, and Unser and Rick Mears are the only drivers to win the 500 in three different decades. Unser was one of six members of the Unser family to race in the Indianapolis 500.
After his driving career, Unser moved to broadcasting and won an Emmy Award as part of the ABC Sports broadcast team for “Outstanding Live Sports Special” for its coverage of the 1989 Indianapolis 500.
Unser is survived by his wife, Lisa; sons Bobby Jr. and Robby; and daughters Cindy and Jeri.