Bobby Unser: King of the Mountain
15 artifacts in this set
Spencer Penrose created the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1916 to promote his toll road up the mountain. It's nicknamed "the race to the clouds." Contestants climb 4,720 feet in 12.42 miles, making 156 turns along the way. The zig-zagging road, dangerous drop-offs, variable weather, and thinning air push drivers and cars to their limits.
Bobby Unser was born near Pikes Peak in 1934, and his father and uncles raced there successfully. Bobby's parents moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, when he was very young, but he grew up hearing stories of the mountain and the race. Bobby made his first competitive run up Pikes Peak in 1955. He finished second overall.
Bobby returned to Pikes Peak the following year in a modified Jaguar. This time, he earned his first overall victory in the race. Unser's time up the mountain -- 14 minutes, 27.0 seconds -- wasn't just the best in his class, but the best finish of anyone in that year's competition.
Two years later, Unser earned his second overall Pikes Peak win in his Unser Special. He finished the 12.42-mile course in 13 minutes, 47.9 seconds, besting his 1956 mark by nearly 40 seconds.
The 1962 race saw Unser return in top form. He clinched the overall win with a finish time of 12 minutes, 5.8 seconds. Unser kept the Moore/Unser car competitive over the years with regular modifications. He lightened the frame and suspension, and switched some of the car's major components to aluminum.
Unser earned his sixth consecutive Pikes Peak overall victory -- and his fifth consecutive win in the Moore/Unser car -- in 1963. His time up the mountain was 12 minutes, 30.6 seconds.
Bobby Unser competed most successfully at Pikes Peak in the open-wheel division. This photo shows him crossing the finish line in his open-wheel Moore/Unser car in 1963 -- when he won the open-wheel and overall victories. At times, Unser also competed in the sports car and stock car divisions. He won the sports car division in 1963.
Bobby didn't get the overall Pikes Peak International Hill Climb victory in 1964 or 1965. He was bested both times by his younger brother, Al Unser, Sr. But Bobby was back on top in 1966. He posted the fastest overall finish with a time of 12 minutes, 23.8 seconds.
Bobby Unser earned his seventh overall Pikes Peak victory in the Moore/Unser car in 1968. He broke the 12-minute mark that year, running up the mountain in 11 minutes, 54.9 seconds. The achievement gave Unser an astonishing ninth overall win in 13 years.
Unser won Pikes Peak's stock car division in 1969 with a Ford Torino, but he didn't capture the overall win. That victory went to Mario Andretti, who also won the Indianapolis 500 that year. Only two drivers have won both Pikes Peak and Indy in a single year. Naturally, the other was Bobby Unser, who won the Indy 500 in 1968.
Unser claimed another class win in the Pikes Peak stock car division in 1974. On this occasion, he conquered the Colorado mountain while driving a Dodge Dart. His finish time was 13 minutes, 13.6 seconds. There was nothing unlucky about that pair of 13s!
Bobby Unser earned his final overall victory in 1986 -- 30 years after his first and three years after he largely retired from competitive driving. Unser's last triumph came behind the wheel of an Audi Quattro, which he rocketed up the mountain in 11 minutes, 9.22 seconds. It was a new course record -- Bobby Unser's 13th such record at Pikes Peak.