Bobby Unser Papers

Biographical / Historical Note

Bobby Unser is a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, a record-holding 13-time champion of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and two-time USAC and CART national champion. He has driven every category of professional racecar to success from karts and dirt track...

More

Bobby Unser is a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, a record-holding 13-time champion of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and two-time USAC and CART national champion. He has driven every category of professional racecar to success from karts and dirt track racers to Formula 1 and stock cars. It is in the open wheel, United States Auto Club (USAC) and Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) Indy cars, however, that Bobby left his mark. Bobby retired from driving in 1981 fifth in all-time CART wins and considered by fans and fellow drivers alike to be one of the best and most tenacious competitors in American racing.

Although many today think that Unser racing started with Bobby and his younger brother Al, the tradition dates to the infancy of the automobile itself at the beginning of the 20th century. Bobby's father, Jerry Unser, moved the family from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque in 1936 and opened a gas station and repair shop along Route 66. Jerry Unser and Bobby's uncles, Louis Jr. and Joe already had run races, even after Uncle Joe's death testing a car for the 1929 Indianapolis 500. Jerry Unser taught all his sons, twins Jerry Jr. and Louie, Bobby and Al, to drive by the time they were 10 and 11 years old, and they were racing on local dirt tracks in their teens.

Bobby's older twin brothers, Jerry Jr. and Louie, were the first to participate in racing on a professional level and took their shot at Indy in 1958. Unfortunately, Jerry Unser Jr. wrecked during a practice run at Indy in 1959 and died from his injuries. Louie Unser briefly stepped away from racing after Jerry's death but returned to stock car racing and Pikes Peak in 1960. As talented a driver as Louie was, it was as an engine builder, mechanic and tuner that earned his reputation. In 1964, Louis was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and although the disease limited his mobility, he spent the rest of his life consulting, designing and building high-performance racing engines for his younger brothers Bobby and Al.

Bobby's first road race was the 1949 Mexican Panamericana Road Race even though according to the rules, at 15 years old, he was too young to participate. Throughout the 1950s, Bobby worked with his brothers under the direction of their father at the Unser garage repairing cars and building their own modified stock cars. The brothers primarily raced open-wheeled sprint cars on dirt tracks across the Plains and Southwest gaining valuable experience in handling and tactics. It was at Pikes Peak that the brothers all established themselves as bold and talented drivers. The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb proved to be the "Unser Race." Between 1946 and 1970, an Unser won their class or the overall championship 14 times, with Bobby Unser claiming nine of his 13 Pikes Peak titles during this period.

After mastering sprint, stock and dirt track cars, Bobby turned his attention to American racing’s most challenging event, the Indianapolis 500. His first assault on the Indianapolis brickyard in 1963 ended almost as soon as it began; he wrecked on the second lap of the race and did not finish. Bobby would go on to race in 19 consecutive Indy 500 races and become one of racing's most elite drivers; a three-time winner raising the Borg-Warner Trophy in 1968, 1975 and 1981.

Bobby's competitiveness, his desire to race in any and every race he could, led him to earn his pilot's license to allow him to fly to races rather than spend hours driving throughout the Southwest. As a self-taught mechanic working in his father's garage alongside his brothers, Bobby earned a reputation as a focused and demanding driving professional whose feel and instinct for tuning a chassis and engine led him to be on the cutting edge of tire, engine and aerodynamic racing design and development.

In addition to racing open-wheel Indy cars, Bobby also piloted Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) sports cars, dirt track sprint cars and NASCAR stock cars. Throughout his career, Bobby drove for some of racing's premier teams but with Roger Penske's team he achieved some of his most noted Indy car victories including his third and final Indy 500 win in 1981. Bobby officially retired from racing in 1982 but even in "retirement," he still managed to keep his hand on the wheel, racing in a handful of events and winning the inaugural Fastmasters Championship series in 1993.

After retirement, Bobby pursued many interests including race commentator, entrepreneur, race team manager, racecar designer and engine builder, motivational speaker, private pilot and expert witness. Bobby has remained intimately involved with the design and development of safer tires for racecars and passenger cars. Bobby is also a guiding force in the Unser family's racing dynasty as his own children, Bobby Jr., Robby and his daughter Jeri and his nephews Johnny, Jason Tanner and Al Unser III keep the Unser name at the pole position of American auto racing.

Less

Scope and Content Note

The Bobby Unser papers are arranged in eleven series.

The UNSER FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHS AND CLIPPINGS SERIES, 1930-2008 (7.0 cubic ft.), is made up of two subseries. The Photographs subseries, consisting primarily of black-and-white...

More

The Bobby Unser papers are arranged in eleven series.

The UNSER FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHS AND CLIPPINGS SERIES, 1930-2008 (7.0 cubic ft.), is made up of two subseries. The Photographs subseries, consisting primarily of black-and-white and color photographic prints, contains two subsubseries. The Racing subsubseries includes photographs highlighting races in which Unser family members participated, including races run by Louis Unser Jr. and Bobby Unser's father Jerry Unser. Races include early Pikes Peak Hill Climb races, dirt track sprint races, midget races, Indy car races, stock car races and Formula 1 races. The photographs are arranged chronologically. The Family subsubseries is made up of photographs of a more personal nature and includes vacations, school and some early races. The subsubseries includes many Unser family members including Louis Jr., Jerry, Bobby's brothers Jerry Jr., Louis and Al Sr., as well as Bobby's children, nephews and nieces. The photographs are arranged alphabetically by name or subject. Researchers should note that a substantial portion of the photographic prints contained in the Photographs subseries have been digitized with images available for viewing at http://collections.thehenryford.org/index.aspx. The Clippings subseries is made up of loose magazine and newspaper clippings covering automobile racing in general as well as various Unser family member's racing careers. Of special note are clippings related to Bobby's mother Mary Unser and her participation in the family's racing and marketing activities. The clippings are arranged chronologically and by name and subject.

The CLIPPING BOOKS, PHOTO ALBUMS AND SCRAPBOOKS SERIES, 1949-1987 (3.0 cubic ft., 14 oversize boxes and 8 volumes), is made up of three subseries. The Clipping Books, Large Format subseries is made up of eight oversized volumes and 1 box of newspaper and magazine clippings assembled by various Unser family members. The clipping books document Bobby Unser's racing career and are arranged chronologically. Researchers should note that these large format volumes have been digitally scanned and are available for research in the Benson Ford Research Center Archives and Library Reading Room.

The Clipping Books, Small Format subseries is made up of four volumes arranged chronologically which document various aspects of Bobby Unser's racing career. The Scrapbooks subseries is made up of nine scrapbooks primarily containing racing or race-related mounted photographs. The scrapbooks are arranged chronologically. The Photo Albums subseries contains various sized photo albums that include racing and family photographs. The albums are arranged chronologically.

The PERSONAL RECORDS SERIES, 1951-2005 (bulk 1960-1985) (5.9 cubic ft.), is made up of four subseries. The Endorsements and Publicity subseries consists of correspondence, racing campaign material, press kits and financial statements related to driving and endorsement agreements that Unser had entered into throughout his career. In addition, the subseries includes printed samples of many of the products or businesses on whose behalf Unser acted and samples of several biographical projects produced throughout Unser's career. The General Personal Materials subseries is made up of correspondence, awards, certificates, commemorative materials, and calendars and daybooks. The Races and Racing subseries consists of clippings, press kits, programs, photographs, competition rulebooks, and notebooks and reports related to myriad races that Unser and other members of the Unser family participated in. Of special interest are the photographs covering Unser's participation in many Pikes Peak Hill Climb races between 1955 and 1968.

The Contracts and Litigation subseries includes three subsubseries. The Contracts subsubseries is made up of contracts and legal agreements related primarily to Bobby Unser's career as a driver, spokesperson and television commentator. The General Legal Materials subsubseries includes incorporation documents for Bobby Unser Racing, Inc., endorsement and appearance payments and employee service agreements. The bulk of the subsubseries consists of material related to Bobby Unser's pleadings before the United States Auto Club Court of Appeals over sanctions against Unser that originally stripped him of his 1981 Indianapolis 500 race victory. Unser and Penske Racing, the team Unser was driving for, won their appeal and Unser earned his third and final Indianapolis 500 victory. The subsubseries also includes four videotapes of Unser demonstrating low- and high-speed turning maneuvers in his role as an expert witness. The Litigation subsubseries is made up of correspondence, legal briefs, notes and court documents related to Unser's lawsuit against one of his primary sponsors, AMS/Oil Corporation. The subsubseries also includes transcripts and other court documents in which Unser was either acting as an expert witness or as litigant.

The RACE TEAMS SERIES, 1966-1988 (3 cubic ft. and 1 oversize box), is arranged in seven subseries and contains correspondence, catalogs, technical reports, and race data related to races and racing teams that Bobby Unser was associated with as a driver, developer and owner. Included is material from Bobby Unser Racing, Inc., Garza Racing, Patrick Racing, Penske Racing, Unser-Galles-Friday Racing, and some material related to Robby Unser's early Kart racing. Of special interest is the material related to Theodore Racing Ltd. between 1983 and 1984, when Bobby Unser was originally hired to be a consultant and ultimately oversaw the dismantling of the race team midway through the 1984 season.

The PUBLISHED MATERIALS SERIES, 1939-2009 (13 cubic ft. and 1 oversize box), is made up of two subseries. The Equipment Catalogs, Parts and Price Lists subseries, contains equipment catalogs and price guides related to Bobby Unser's various racing and race development activities. The Programs and Other Publications subseries, contains race programs from many of the races that Bobby Unser participated in, including his long association with the Pikes Peak Hill Climb race.

The FLOW BENCH SERVICE, TESTING MANUALS AND CATALOGS SERIES, 1950-1974 (0.4 cubic ft. and 1 oversize box), contains testing manuals and forms, parts price lists and technical specifications related to automobile service and repair and engine testing equipment.

The PROMOTIONAL ITEMS SERIES (2 oversize boxes) is made up of three subseries. The Patches subseries consists of embroidered cloth patches featuring various corporate and sponsor logos. The Buttons and Fobs subseries consists of a Bonneville 200 MPH Club key fob and a button labeled "Ready Mixed Concrete Co." The Decals and Stickers subseries consists of adhesive-backed stickers and decals featuring various corporate and sponsor logos.

The POSTERS SERIES (2 oversize boxes, 1 roll and 3 items shelved separately) consists of posters and graphics illustrating vehicles, races, award ceremonies and other events related to Bobby Unser's racing career.

The SOUND RECORDINGS SERIES (3 recordings) consists primarily of recordings of the radio broadcasts for the 1968 and 1981 Indianapolis 500 races. The series also contains a single recording of a radio commercial.

The MOTION PICTURES SERIES (74 reels and 1 videocassette) consists primarily of professional produced films related to Bobby Unser's Pike's Peak and Indianapolis race involvement. Also included are several commercials featuring Bobby Unser and a group of 8mm and Super 8 home movies.

The DIGITAL ACCESS COPIES SERIES (1 oversize box) consists of compact discs (CDs) and digital video discs (DVDs) containing digital copies of selected items from the Clipping Books, Photo Albums and Scrapbooks series and the Motion Pictures series. Produced by The Henry Ford these digital copies are intended as an aid to researchers accessing the collection in the Benson Ford Research Center Reading Room.

Less
Collection Details

Object ID: 2009.123.0
Creator: Unser, Bobby, 1934- 
Inclusive Dates: 1949-1995
Size: 32.3 cubic ft., 22 oversize boxes, 8 volumes, 1 roll, 3 sound recordingings, 74 reels and 1 video tape
Language: English

Collection Access & Use

Item Location: Not Currently On Exhibit

Access Restrictions: The papers are open for research.

Credit: From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Bobby Unser.

Digitized Artifacts From This Collection

In many cases, not all artifacts have been digitized.
Contact us for more information about this collection.

ABC Sports Shirt Worn by Bobby Unser, 1987-1997

  Details

ABC Sports Shirt Worn by Bobby Unser, 1987-1997

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Polo shirt

Date Made

1987-1997

Summary

After he retired from competitive racing in 1982, Bobby Unser launched a second career as a television sportscaster. At various times, Unser provided commentary on auto races for the ABC, NBC and ESPN networks. Unser wore this shirt while commentating for ABC Sports.

Place of Creation

Peru 

Object ID

2009.123.54

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Bobby Unser.

Location

Not on exhibit to the public.

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

ABC Sports Shirt Worn by Bobby Unser, 1987-1997

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Advertising Poster, "Indianapolis - Bobby Unser - Goodyear," 1968

  Details

Advertising Poster, "Indianapolis - Bobby Unser - Goodyear," 1968

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Poster

Date Made

1968

Object ID

2009.123.39

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Bobby Unser.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Advertising Poster, "Indianapolis - Bobby Unser - Goodyear," 1968

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Advertising Poster, "Racing Days are Here Again, Time for Sterling Beer," 1968

  Details

Advertising Poster, "Racing Days are Here Again, Time for Sterling Beer," 1968

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Poster

Object ID

2009.123.28

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Bobby Unser.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Advertising Poster, "Racing Days are Here Again, Time for Sterling Beer," 1968

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Auto Repair Garage Owned by Jerry Unser, Sr., Albuquerque, New Mexico, circa 1955

  Details

Auto Repair Garage Owned by Jerry Unser, Sr., Albuquerque, New Mexico, circa 1955

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

Jerry Unser Sr. (father of race car drivers Jerry Jr., Louie, Bobby and Al Unser) owned this auto repair garage in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Unser's shop was unusual for 1955 -- he offered repair service for foreign cars. At one time or another, all the Unser brothers worked in their father's auto repair shop.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2009.123.142

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Bobby Unser.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Auto Repair Garage Owned by Jerry Unser, Sr., Albuquerque, New Mexico, circa 1955

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item10

  Details

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item10

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

Bobby Unser earned a place among automobile racing's greats, having successfully competed in nearly every form of the sport. The racing career of this three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 13-time Pikes Peak International Hill Climb champion spanned more than 30 years. This photograph -- only one of thousands donated by Bobby and Lisa Unser to The Henry Ford -- helps to document his career.

Object ID

2009.123.205.10

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Bobby Unser.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item10

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item11

  Details

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item11

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

Bobby Unser earned a place among automobile racing's greats, having successfully competed in nearly every form of the sport. The racing career of this three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 13-time Pikes Peak International Hill Climb champion spanned more than 30 years. This photograph -- only one of thousands donated by Bobby and Lisa Unser to The Henry Ford -- helps to document his career.

Object ID

2009.123.205.11

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Bobby Unser.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item11

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item12

  Details

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item12

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

Bobby Unser earned a place among automobile racing's greats, having successfully competed in nearly every form of the sport. The racing career of this three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 13-time Pikes Peak International Hill Climb champion spanned more than 30 years. This photograph -- only one of thousands donated by Bobby and Lisa Unser to The Henry Ford -- helps to document his career.

Object ID

2009.123.205.12

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Bobby Unser.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item12

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item13

  Details

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item13

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

Bobby Unser earned a place among automobile racing's greats, having successfully competed in nearly every form of the sport. The racing career of this three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 13-time Pikes Peak International Hill Climb champion spanned more than 30 years. This photograph -- only one of thousands donated by Bobby and Lisa Unser to The Henry Ford -- helps to document his career.

Object ID

2009.123.205.13

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Bobby Unser.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item13

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item16

  Details

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item16

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

Bobby Unser earned a place among automobile racing's greats, having successfully competed in nearly every form of the sport. The racing career of this three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 13-time Pikes Peak International Hill Climb champion spanned more than 30 years. This photograph -- only one of thousands donated by Bobby and Lisa Unser to The Henry Ford -- helps to document his career.

Object ID

2009.123.205.16

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Bobby Unser.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Bobby Unser--Photographs--Racing--1930-1945--Item16

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details