News & Multimedia

No. 9: IMS Says Farewell to Racing Legends

Note: The editorial staff at IMS.com is taking a look back at the 10 biggest moments of 2021 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in this year-end series, with one installment appearing on the site per day in countdown fashion from Dec. 22-31.

For all the ups the Indianapolis Motor Speedway experienced on-track this year, it was matched with several downs as the IMS community mourned the loss of several legendary figures that helped make the Racing Capital of the World what it is today.

The first major loss of 2021 came just as the new year rang in: three-time Indianapolis 500-winning team owner U.E. “Pat” Patrick died Jan. 5 at age 91 after a long illness. Patrick is one of just seven team owners in the history of the Indianapolis 500 with three or more “500” wins.

His team, Patrick Racing, fielded race-winning Indianapolis 500 entries for Gordon Johncock in 1973 and ’82, and Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989.

Another significant loss for the racing community came May 2 with the death of three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser at age 87. He was one of the most colorful, outspoken and popular drivers in the history of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Outside of his three Indy 500 wins, in 1968, ’75 and ’81, Unser is one of just 10 drivers to win the “500” at least three times and is a member of numerous motorsports Halls of Fame, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, for which he was inducted in 1990.

You can celebrate Unser’s life with this tribute video and photo gallery.

As IMS ramped up for another major racing event, Brickyard Weekend in August, the racing world was struck with the news of another loss in the community: legendary motorsports broadcaster Bob Jenkins, who died Aug. 9 at age 73 after a valiant fight with cancer.

As he put it, Jenkins was “a race fan who got lucky.” He was a former “Voice of the 500” and is a member of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame. Two of his most iconic broadcasting moments came at IMS when he called the finish of the 1992 Indianapolis 500, the closest in history, between Al Unser Jr. and Scott Goodyear, and when he called Jeff Gordon home to win the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994.

Jenkins was a colon cancer survivor in the 1980s. In February 2021, he revealed he had been diagnosed with two malignant tumors behind his right temple.

Relive Jenkins’ career in this touching tribute video:

Just weeks after the racing community lost a major media figure in Jenkins, it lost another one. This time, it was journalist Robin Miller, who died on Aug. 25 at age 71. Miller was a lifelong motorsports fan who became one of the sport’s most recognized and influential media figures.

Miller had an emotional and heartfelt “thank you,” and ultimately, goodbye, during Brickyard Weekend in August as the legendary motorsports figure reminisced with current stars of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and NASCAR Cup Series.

He received his trophy and recognition for being inducted to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America’s 2021 class, as well as a standing ovation.

An emotional Miller ended his day on a touching quote: “If I don’t get up tomorrow morning, I’ve had a great life.” Just two months later, Miller’s seat in the Dex Imaging Media Center was reserved and dedicated to him.

As the end of the calendar year approached, the racing community lost one more prominent motorsports figure: Al Unser. After a 17-year battle with cancer, Unser died Dec. 9 at age 82.

Unser was the second member of the Unser auto racing dynasty to win the Indy 500, but he was truly one of the most historic drivers in the 105-year history of the Indianapolis 500 as one of just four drivers to have won the Indianapolis 500 four times, alongside A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves.

Unser made 27 Indy 500 starts, the third-most in race history, and won four times: 1970, ’71, ’78, ’87. He holds the record for the most laps led in the “500” at 644, is the oldest driver to win at age 47 and is one of just five drivers to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in back-to-back years.

In celebration of Unser’s life, the IMS Pylon was lit for four days, representing each of his four wins. You can honor and celebrate the life of a legend with this tribute video and photo gallery.

Other members of the Indianapolis 500 community lost in 2021 include: drivers Bill Whittington (71), Andre Ribeiro (55) and Graham McRae (81), and longtime CART and Honda Racing public relations executive T.E. McHale (68).

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