Photo courtesy of Bill Warner
He was the first Unser to win the Indy 500 and the first racer to win the “500” across three decades. His victories in 1968, 1975 and 1981 delivered Dan Gurney’s Eagles their first 500 victory (and their third). In 1975 he even won the IROC title and in 1993 the made-for-TV Fast Masters Championship. He was selected as one of Sports Illustrated’s “Top Five Athletes” in the magazine’s first twenty years, along with the Martini & Rossi and Olsonite “Driver of the Year” awards in 1974.
The controversy regarding his final “500” win (1981) opened the door for his retirement. His disgust for what he saw as ugly politics kept him out of the cockpit but he ended up in the broadcast booth for NBC, ABC and ESPN. He brought the same sort of ferocious competitiveness to the announcer’s booth as he did in Indy Cars.
Unser became a television commentator for Indy Car races after his retirement, working for ESPN, NBC and ABC. Unser also worked as the analyst for the Radio Network in 1986. In 1989 and 1990, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded ABC’s Indy 500 telecast the Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Live Sports Special with Unser receiving announcer honors with Paul Page and Sam Posey: his on-air verbal jousting with ABC co-commentator (and 2013 Amelia Honoree) Posey is still the stuff of legend. Much was theater as both Sam and Bobby were very good friends.