Pilot Journal
Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Racing Bobby Unser

“I will go fast until the day I die.”—Bobby Unser, three-time Indianapolis 500 champion

racing bobby unserThere were surprises. It only took one question to kick off a discussion that took nearly three utterly fascinating hours to unravel. And some of the statements he made were truly outside the image and expectations I had brought to the interview.
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When deemed mechanically sound, Unser flew it down to Albuquerque, called the owner, agreed on a price and sent off a check. He has never met the owner. And he never got a formal checkout in the aircraft.

Unser flew that Aerostar all over North America. “It took little or no maintenance, and although it burned more fuel than the Beechcraft Travel Air, it went so much faster that I wound up using less fuel,” he says. “It was a dream to own.”

Most of the time, he flew solo. He went through one set of engines with the Aerostar and would soon need another set. But Unser was getting sick of flying—burning out on it. He sold the Aerostar for a fraction of what he had in it because he just wanted to get out from under the ongoing expenses and the drudgery of cross-country flying. He went back to flying the airlines.

The severance wasn’t complete, however. He kept the Cessna 206 that he had bought to run back and forth to his large, working ranch in northern New Mexico. Then he began using it to commute to a house-building project in Mexico. Over the next few years, he found himself occasionally using the C-206 to go to a race or a meeting, but only if the weather was good and only if he was really in the mood. He eventually decided it was time to get back into a Bonanza and bought a B36.

The B36 rekindled Unser’s interest in flying, and it wasn’t long before he picked up a pressurized, air-conditioned Aerostar for his longer trips. He repainted the Aerostar to match the first one, which he had also repainted and tricked out with every available performance item. The Aerostar and B36 share space with his wife’s Cessna 182 RG, which Unser uses as a backup.

Unser makes it clear that flying beats walking and highway driving, too. If a car isn’t designed and cleared to break 200 mph, Unser would rather be flying. Races, other than the ones that he likes to watch now, have been replaced with business trips that come close in frequency to the days when he drove in circles. Unser still loves his flying experiences, but don’t ever invite him to go up and do stalls.


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