Al Unser, the Indianapolis 500’s second four-time winner, died Dec. 9, 2021 at his home in Chama, New Mexico following a 17-year battle with cancer. He was 82.
Born in Albuquerque to what became a famous racing family, Unser followed his three older brothers and the generation of Unser brothers before them into auto racing.
Unser won his first 500 in 1970, two years after brother Bobby won his first. Unser won again in 1971, 1978 and 1987 to join A.J. Foyt as a four-time Indy winner. Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves later joined them in the club.
Combined, the Unsers made 73 starts in the 500, a figure eclipsed only by the 76 of the Andrettis. The Unser participation: Al (27 races), Bobby (19), Al Jr. (19), Johnny (five), Robby (two) and Jerry (one). They won a record nine times.
Unser holds the record for the most laps led in the 500, with 644. Leading the final lap of the 1987 race allowed him to tie Ralph DePalma’s 75-year-old record of 612.
Unser’s 27 Indy starts ranks third behind only Foyt (35) and Andretti (29), and his final victory allowed him to break Bobby’s record as the oldest 500 winner at 47 years, 350 days.
Unser won three INDYCAR season championships, in 1970, 1983 and 1985. He also won eight 500-mile races, including INDYCAR’s “Triple Crown” of 500-mile races (Indy, Pocono and Ontario), a feat the remains unmatched.
Unser finished with 39 career INDYCAR wins, sixth on the all-time list. He also finished fourth in the 1968 Daytona 500. He was inducted into the IMS Hall of Fame in 1986.
Vince Granatelli, who was a leading mechanic for two notable machines in Indianapolis 500 history and later became a race-winning team owner, died Jan. 22, 2022. He was 78.
Granatelli was a member of the famous racing family that made its name through the 500, including his father, Andy, the flamboyant owner of the car that Mario Andretti drove to victory in the 1969 race.
Vince first turned wrenches at IMS in 1961 as a mechanic on the Novi-powered machines his father brought to the 500 that year. The unique engine growl of the Novi captivated fans for more than two decades. Granatelli then worked as a mechanic on the turbine-powered machines nicknamed the “Whooshmobile” due to the unique hissing sound of the Pratt & Whitney gas turbine engine.
After a short absence, Granatelli returned to racing in 1987 as the owner of Vince Granatelli Racing, which fielded cars in CART in a similar day-glo red as his father’s turbine-powered cars. Roberto Guerrero won two races for the team in its first season in 1987. Guerrero led the 500 that year with 19 laps to go but two stalls on a final pit stopped due to a damaged clutched handed the victory to Al Unser. Arie Luyendyk earned the team its third and fourth victories in 1991.
Robin Miller, a lifelong motorsports fan who became one of the sport’s most recognized and influential media personalities, died Aug. 25 in Indianapolis. He was 71.
A native of his beloved Southport, Indiana, Miller rose to prominence as an Indianapolis Star sports writer, parlaying his love of many sports into more than 50 years of communication that defined his life. Known predominantly as a writer and columnist covering the Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR SERIES racing, Miller became a television personality first with ESPN, then SPEED and most recently NBC. He also had long stints at all of Indianapolis’ TV affiliates over the years.
Miller’s journalism career began at The Star in 1968, and he never retired from writing about auto racing. His stories and columns were featured in Autoweek, Car and Driver, Sports Illustrated and RACER, among other notable publications and websites, and for years he hosted shows on Indianapolis radio stations as he was a master storyteller.
In 2019, as Miller covered his 50th “500” amid declining health, Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced the creation of the Robin Miller Award, to be given annually to an unheralded individual who has brought unbridled passion and an unrelenting work ethic to enrich the sport.
For more about Robin’s life, click here to read the INDYCAR.com story.
Veteran radio and television broadcaster Bob Jenkins, a former “Voice of the 500” inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 2019, died Aug. 9 at age 73 following a valiant fight with cancer.
The voice of the Liberty, Indiana, native was heard globally over five decades on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network, serving several positions, including chief announcer from 1990 through 1998. Jenkins was one of only four people to serve as television play-by-play announcer in ABC’s 54-year history of broadcasting the Indianapolis 500.
With an easygoing, friendly style that mirrored his personality, the beloved and respected Jenkins anchored NTT INDYCAR SERIES races on television and was a frequent contributor to the public address system at IMS. Jenkins also was a frequent master of ceremonies at “500”-related functions, including the Indianapolis 500 Victory Celebration.
In one form or another, Jenkins was connected to IMS for more than 40 years, and his most familiar call was the thrilling finish of the 1992 race between Al Unser Jr. and Scott Goodyear.
Jenkins attended his first “500” in 1960 and said he had only missed two races since – in 1961 when he couldn’t get anyone to take him, and in 1965 when he was on a trip as a high school senior. He came to the track last May while fighting his illness to receive the Robin Miller Award, where he made a brief, poignant acceptance speech and was warmly received by a large group of friends and admirers from the racing community and media.
If there was a form of motorsports on U.S. television, Jenkins likely was involved with it at some point in his career.
Jenkins was a colon cancer survivor in the 1980s and retired from television in 2012 to care for his wife, Pam, who had her own cancer battle. She died that October. In February 2021, Jenkins revealed he had been diagnosed with two malignant tumors behind his right temple following a severe headache on Christmas night. Read the full IMS.com story here.
Bobby Unser, the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in three different decades, died May 2, 2021 in his Albuquerque, New Mexico home. He was 87.
Unser won the “500” in 1968, 1975 and 1981, just one of 10 drivers to have won the race at least three times. Rick Mears later matched Unser’s feat of winning in three different decades.
Unser led the family clan to victory circle at Indy. Younger brother Al won the “500” a record-tying four times and his son, Al Jr., won twice to push the family total to nine. It’s a record likely never to be broken.
For more about Unser’s life and racing career, read the IMS.com story here.
Two new Directors have been announced — Bob Jenkins and Paul Page — and they will be joining the Board of Directors in 2021. They will be replacing Bill Marvel, who passed away in December, and Dick Mittman, who will become Director Emeritus, joining Johnny Rutherford. The Board is honoring Dick with his appointment in appreciation of his commitment and long service as the Newsletter Editor.
The organization is honoring 29 members with their “yellow hats” symbolizing 20 years of being a member of the organization. They will also be honoring one member — Robert Bunting — with his “white hat” marking 40 years of organization membership.
20 Year Yellow Hats: Larry Arnold, Terry Ferguson, Brian Livingston, Noble Bennett, Frank Fiore, Russ Newnes, Jeffrey Boles, Richard Fritz, Keith Overpeck, Joel Bornhorst, Richard Glick, John Pickard Jr., Tracy Chaney, Walter Goodwin, H.Martin Storm Jr., Wayne Coles, George Greenwell, Marvin Taylor, Daniel Cotter, Daniel Hagist, Rick Whitt, Ron Dawes, Max Klise, Donald Wilkerson, Herb Detrick, Edward Koenig III, Joyce Yockey, Susan Ebershoff-Coles and Stephen Lewis. Congratulations to all of you. Your hats will be coming your way shortly.
Steve Stapp, an inductee of both the National Sprint Car and USAC Halls of Fame and the third winningest car owner in the history of the USAC National Sprint Car division, passed away April 23, 2021, in his sleep at the age of 80.
“The Bopper” spent more than a half century from the late 1950s and well into the 21st century in USAC pits. He was the son of Babe Stapp,the 12-time Indianapolis 500 starter and a fellow inductee in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.
The first of Stapp’s 51 career victories as a car owner in USAC National Sprint Car competition came at the Terre Haute Action Track in 1965 with Johnny Rutherford driving.
Pat Patrick, one of the most influential car owners in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history, passed away Jan. 2 in Phoenix. He was 91. Patrick’s teams won the Indianapolis 500 three times, including the rain-shortened race in 1973 with Gordon Johncock and then near photo finish in 1982, where Johncock edged Rick Mears, and again in 1989 with Emerson Fittipaldi. But Patrick’s legacy will likely be as one of CART’s founding fathers.
Aldo Andretti, the twin brother of racing legend Mario Andretti and father of the late John Andretti, died Dec. 30 at 80. In a tweet, Mario wrote that “Aldo Andretti, my loving twin brother, my partner in crime and my faithful best friend every day of my life was called to heaven last night. Half of me went with him. There is no eloquence. I’m shaken to my core.” Aldo and Mario were born in Montona, Italy, and spent several years in a Tuscany refugee camp before immigrating with their family to the United States in 1955. Their father arrived in the country with $125 and a promise to stay for at least five years. The twins soon began racing and winning on dirt ovals nearly their home in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. Though Aldo’s driving career was cut short by a crash, he retained his passion for motorsports, attending most of the events of racing family. Aldo and his high school sweetheart, Corky, had five children: Carolyn, Mark, John, Mary Jo and Adam.
John Paul Jr., one of racing’s most talented, beloved and star-crossed drivers died Dec. 29, 2020 at the age of 60. He spent nearly two decades fighting the cruel Huntington’s Disease, which robs its victims of motor skills, among other things. The disease is hereditary, and John lost his grandmother, mother, aunt and sister to it. John is best known for his exploits in sports car racing, becoming the youngest IMSA champion and scoring more than 20 career victories, including two in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and one in the 12 Hours of Sebring. But he also won a CART race at Michigan in 1983 and an IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway in 1998 — that’s more than 15 years apart! John had lived the past dozen years in Calabasas, Calif., where he donated considerable time to the UCLA Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Studies in search of a cure for Huntington’s Disease. He spent all those hours with the hope he might see a cure in his lifetime and his efforts be a benefit to his children, who have a 50-50 chance of suffering from it. The excellent book “50-50” details his struggles with the disease.
Our close-knit motorsports family lost a dear friend Dec. 20, 2020 when Bill Marvel passed away at the age of 91. Almost everyone has a story to tell of Marvel, a charter member of the United States Auto Club who attended the sanctioning body’s first race (Jan. 8, 1956 in Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Ind.) and spent more than 60 years promoting the sport, its drivers, tracks and sponsors,
Marvel, an Indianapolis native and longtime resident, was a U.S. Marine, serving three years of active duty in the Korean War. Marvel’s list of contributions, titles, generosity, friendship and family contributions go well beyond whatever can be written about him, and there is a terrific obit here on USAC’s website.
Marvel’s father, Clem, attended his first Indianapolis 500 in 1914, and his son became hooked on the sport. In August, Marvel attended his 76th consecutive Indianapolis 500. Of course, Marvel’s life can’t be told without mentioning the heartbreaking loss of his oldest son, Billy Jr., in a sprint car crash at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Ind., in 1983. Marvel’s other son, Brad, went on to a strong career driving open-wheel race cars. Subsequent generations of Marvels have continued the family success in the sport.
Marvel served 32 years on the Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers’ Board of Directors, and he was the Executive Director of the the USAC Benevolent Foundation which assists those from the motorsports world in need. Quite frankly, Marvel did it all, and he will be sorely missed.
Ralph Liguori, a New York native known to many as Ralphie the Racer, has passed away. He was 93. A dirt track standout who held the track record at Langhorne, the personable Liguori was best known for never making the field for an Indianapolis 500 despite 10 years of trying. He was the second-oldest driver member of the Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers.
Jimmy Joe “JJ” Humpfrey passed away June 6, 2020. He was a member of the Safety Patrol for more than 25 years.
Tom Sneva, the 1983 race winner, lost his wife, Sharon, in the summer of 2020.
Four-time Indy 500 starter Chuck Hulse died July 13. The best of his “500” finishes came in 1967 when he finished seventh in the No. 8 Hopkins Lola-Offy. Hulse, a dirt track star from Southern California, was one of 11 drivers to score top-10 finishes in cars with engines in the front and rear. He was 92.