Legendary Trip

By Eddie LePine

When you are thinking of going on a vacation trip, you probably don’t often think of going to Albuquerque, New Mexico. For me, trips usually revolve around the racing schedule, and aside from going to a race event, I seldom get time to just go somewhere to visit.

I was at Road America a few weeks ago for the IMSA WeatherTech race and after a long day at the track was in my car on the way back to Milwaukee, where I would be staying with my dad. Out of the blue, my cell phone rang and on the other end of the line was none other than three time Indy 500 winner Bobby Unser, calling to say hello and to ask when I was going to finally come visit him in Albuquerque.

A little back story. I met Bobby and his wife Lisa many years ago at the Amelia Island Concours, and we hit it off right away. Over the course of the next several years, we would always meet at Amelia and catch up on one another. Bobby and Lisa always asked when I was going to come to New Mexico to have dinner with them.

Back to Road America. When Bobby called, it just so happened that I was planning on a family trip the following week to New Mexico to see some of my wife’s relatives. So, while I had Bobby and Lisa on the phone I told them that I would finally be taking them up on their dinner offer.

When I arrived in New Mexico, I made directly for the world-famous Unser Museum, which houses race cars and memorabilia from the Unser family’s incredible racing careers. Frankly, I have been to a lot of racing museums and collections over the years, but this one was just outstanding. Everything was there, from early helmets to car parts to complete race cars. If you are a motorsports fan, you have to make the trip to see this collection. Curator Willis Dane Burnett and Carol gave me an outstanding tour.

All throughout the museum you are reminded of just how incredible Bobby Unser’s career was. It started in 1955, and his first Indy 500 was in 1963. Bobby went on to win the Indy 500 in 1968, 1975 and 1981. That win in 1981 was bittersweet, as it was the controversy over whether Bobby or Mario Andretti had passed cars under the yellow (they both did) that resulted in hard feelings, a victory overturned and reinstated, and years of hard feelings between Bobby and Mario (long ago mended, as they are now friends again). After 1981’s Indy season, Bobby was fed up and retired from IndyCar racing, but continued to compete.

Working with Audi, he did development work on the awesome Group B Audi Quattro and in 1986, after a ten-year absence from the event, won Pikes Peak for the 10th time. Unser won Pikes Peak so many times that unofficially they renamed the mountain “Unser’s Peak”.

In a storied career that included testing the waters of Formula One in 1968 (two entries and one start for BRM), to the 1975 IROC Championship, and finally a land speed record at Bonneville in 1993 in a D/Gas Modified roadster (223.709mph) – a record that stood for 18 years! Bobby Unser has done it all!

In our time together on this trip the stories flowed, and I could have spent a month listening to his incredible journey through life. What a racer! What a life he has lived!

I am so glad I made that trip to New Mexico meet with a true hero of motorsport and someone who I am proud to call my friend – Bobby Unser.

Bobby Unser is a true one of a kind personality and a living legend.

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