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Bobby Unser, 87, Indy 500 champ in great racing family, dies

ap photo In this 1981 file photo, Bobby Unser holds three fingers aloft after winning his third Indianapolis 500 auto race ,in Indianapolis, Ind.

There wasn’t much Bobby Unser wouldn’t do to promote the Indianapolis 500, which is how he found himself at a show-and-tell at an Indiana elementary school a few years ago.

He had the famed Indy 500 winners’ Borg-Warner Trophy with him and proudly showed the students the Unser legacy. He pointed to the nine places where their faces are sculpted into the sterling silver — four spots for his little brother, Al; three for himself; two for nephew Al Jr.

One girl had a question: If his brother was there four times and he was there only three, was his brother the better racer?

It was one of few times anyone had seen Unser speechless.

Unser, who began racing jalopies in New Mexico and went on to become a beloved figure across racing and part of the only pair of brothers to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” died Sunday at 87. He died at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, of natural causes, Indianapolis Motor Speedway said.

“There simply was no one quite like Bobby Unser,” said Roger Penske, now the speedway owner. “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.”

Unser was a member of one America’s most famed racing families and one of the greatest drivers in the history of the speedway, capturing the race in 1968, 1975 and 1981.

“He is part of the Mount Rushmore of Indy,” said Dario Franchitti, another three-time Indy 500 winner.

Unser’s final Indy 500 victory in a Penske entry was one of the most contentious outcomes and is still disputed to this day.

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