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Historics: Indy 500 legend Bobby Unser to lead SVRA Brickyard oval run

The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) announced via press release on Thursday, May 1, that three-time Indianapolis 500-mile race champion Bobby Unser will lead off their oval high-speed exhibition “races” at the Brickyard Invitational vintage race meet to be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) June 6-8. Unser will lead the "first true high-speed vintage events on the IMS oval," according to SVRA. For the first time in the Speedway's history, race cars will be in action on both the oval and road course on the same day.

Historics: Indy 500 legend Bobby Unser to lead SVRA Brickyard oval run
Historics: Indy 500 legend Bobby Unser to lead SVRA Brickyard oval runPhoto by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Historics: Indy 500 legend Bobby Unser to lead SVRA Brickyard oval run
Historics: Indy 500 legend Bobby Unser to lead SVRA Brickyard oval runPhoto by Robert Laberge/Getty Images

SVRA will have 11 groups of cars spanning 100 years of vintage machines on site that weekend, and all will be in action at IMS. About 700 cars will occupy the IMS grounds during the three days of racing, and "all will be allowed access to the oval in a special homage to the essence of IMS and what it means to American history," according to the release.

Unser will lead the Group 2 and 9 open-wheel categories as well as other sessions designed for oval-only drivers of cars such as Indianapolis 500 roadsters as well as classic dirt and sprint cars. Specific race cars that Unser will drive have yet to be determined.

About his participation in the first-ever event at IMS, Bobby Unser said:

“Race fans will be treated to an amazing spectacle of living history. Boys and girls, strap on your helmets because we are going to have fun.”

Unser, who won the Indianapolis 500 in 1968, 1975 and 1981, also achieved the national driving championship in 1968 and 1974. Known as a versatile talent, the International Hall of Fame driver won the 1975 International Race of Champions (IROC) and scored more Pikes Peak Hill Climb victories than anyone in history.

As a winner in sprint cars and midgets, Unser also competed in NASCAR, Formula One and sports cars. As a development driver, Unser is credited with much of the input to the design of the “Gurney Flap,” an integral element of racing wings. He also contributed to the development of the first in-house Penske chassis to win the Indianapolis 500. In addition, Unser provided race analysis through booth commentary for ABC’s Indianapolis 500 coverage.

“This oval experience is unprecedented and of a scale and magnitude never seen before at IMS,” said Tony Parella, SVRA President and CEO. “With Bobby leading these race cars they will be unbridled by a pace car and will be full throttle down the straightaways. It will be a special sensory treat for fans young and mature to witness and hear the throaty roar of these amazing marvels of engineering driven in anger once again."

Parella added, "The oval-only cars will be organized by eras so it will have the feel of what it was like for fans in the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and beyond.” Out of safety concerns, the oval events will be strictly regulated with no passing in the turns. This rule is also designed to help protect the historic vehicles, many of which are now worth over $1 million.

Bobby Unser is not the only legendary Indy 500 racer returning to IMS that weekend. As previously announced, Bobby Unser’s nephew, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., heads a star-studded field of drivers in the Sunday, June 8 feature event of the weekend – the “Indy Legends” Pro-Am. This event is a return to competition for veterans of the Indianapolis 500 with a 40-minute race of American muscle cars on the Speedway’s 2.43-mile Grand Prix road course. The SVRA expects to attract a field of at least 24 Indianapolis 500 veterans for the competition.

Among the previously announced 11 entries are 1992 Rookie-of-the Year Lyn St. James, Willy T. Ribbs, Mark Dismore, Geoff Brabham, Johnny Parsons Jr. and Alex Lloyd. Another racing legend, 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones, will pace the field. Jones also serves as Grand Marshal for the entire Brickyard Invitational weekend.

The Indianapolis 500 veterans will be in 1967 to 1972 vintage Corvettes, Camaros and Mustangs of “Group 6,” with an engine displacement limit of 355 cubic inches. The professionals will be paired with amateur drivers, each taking a 20-minute stint. Five minutes will be allotted for driver change.

The Pro-Am cars and drivers will also participate in a Fan Walk through the starting grid prior to the opening ceremonies allowing fans to see the cars up close, take photos and chat with the drivers. Driver pairings and starting positions will be determined by a lottery. Entries to this event will be limited and all entry fees will be donated to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum Foundation.

SVRA says the “Brickyard Invitational” weekend will be "the largest gathering of race cars ever assembled for competition in America." The array of entries include examples of select prewar machines, classic sports cars, Formula One and Le Mans prototypes as current as 2008. Race fans will also have the unique opportunity for overnight camping inside the Speedway.