Thursday, August 10, 2006
Like anyone who was around at that better time in American open-wheel racing history, I have many – MANY! -- Bobby Unser stories. Here’s my favorite:
In late 1981, Sports Illustrated published a major back-of-the-book feature on the controversial three-time Indianapolis 500 winner. At that time, I was CART’s communications director, so I knew the story was coming and had played a small role in facilitating interviews and photos. The article itself provided a bit of controversy, as it included some sharply-written accounts of Unser’s colorful life, but almost everybody who actually knew Bobby thought it captured him pretty well.
As luck would have it, a few days after the piece was published, we were in New York City and one item on our agenda was dinner at the Smith & Wolensky steak house with a few prominent media people. En route to the restaurant, Unser was fuming about the SI article, which wasn’t doing my blood pressure much good since dinner was intended to be a relationship-building and goodwill exercise with journalists. In an attempt to calm him, I said: “Bobby, you are a living legend, and stories like this are written because the public demands to know all they can about you.” As I spoke the words living legend, Unser interrupted me and said, “I know, but . . .”
News came today that Bobby and his brother, Al, were arrested Wednesday by sheriffs in New Mexico. They stand accused of ignoring orders to leave an area blocked-off in a police confrontation with a carjacking suspect. I’m not saying there’s anything funny about being arrested, but this video of Bobby’s interview with a local TV reporter is sure to bring laughs to all who know him. Note Bobby’s comments that he was “in a really good mood;” “never was I anything more than a gentlemen;” and “I’m not dumb, the world thinks I’m smart.” Classic Bobby!
It reminds me there was a time when Indy/Champ Car racing actually featured drivers with personalities that made the public want to buy tickets and watch on TV.
[ more next Tuesday . . . ]