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« My interview with George Benson | Main | My chat with racing legend Mel Kenyon »
Friday
Mar252011

My chat with Bobby Unser

Bobby Unser leads Roger McCluskey during 1969 Champ Car race at Hanford Motor Speedway. The race was the last national event held at the track.Bobby Unser was a dominant force in his three races at Hanford Motor Speedway, with an average start of 3.2 and average finish of 4.0.

Bobby Unser's Eagle-Offy after the November 1968 Champ Car race at Hanford Motor Speedway. (Photo Copyright ©2011 Ken Durham, www.GearHeadPhotography.com)Those performances included a pole in the first 1968 race, and three other Top 5 starts, and finishes of 2nd, 5th, 2nd and 7th. He drove for Bob Wilke all four races, in an Eagle-Ford in 1967 but Eagle-Offys in 1968-69.

"We had good races there but I distinctly remember sand when we raced there," Unser told me in a telephone interview from his home in New Mexico. "It was a "big slide for life" type of deal, that's what Hanford was."

Despite strong Hanford performances that included leading 98 laps in the first 1968 race  -- the year he won the national championship -- Unser kept referring to sand on the track.

"It wasn't a good place to race on," he said. "Lots of sand would Bobby Unser immediately after finishing second to A.J. Foyt in the November 1968 champ Car race at Hanford Motor Speedway. (Photo Copyright ©2011 Ken Durham, www.GearHeadPhotography.com). blow on the track. It  wasn't a completed race track. It needed an infusion of "finish it up."

The attempt to sell stock several years later would seem to support that stance, with the $750,000 needed for a variety of track improvements that USAC required to keep the track on the Champ Car calendar.

"It was unfortunate that it went away," Unser said of the speedway. "We all liked the idea of a race track in middle of California. All the drivers, owners and mechanics liked it."

"I still think that where the area was, it should have continued on. It was just a lack of money that it didn't. I think it could have been a winner." 

Unser was listed as a possible board member of Hanford Motor Speedway Inc.I asked Unser about his experience with Hanford Motor Speedway Inc., the corporation created to own and operate the track as well as generate $750,000 in revenue by floating a stock sale in 1970. Formal documents listed Unser "to become a director of the company," joining Hanford promoter J.C. Agajanian, Robert Carlin, Jay Kuhne and Patrick Cooney (see related document).

Unser did not recall the corporation or his proposed involvement, saying, "That was so long ago. I remember J.C., of course, but don't recognize the other names."


RELATED STORIES: Read more about Marchbanks Speedway and Hanford Motor Speedway in my Marchbanks section, including the regularly updated "History of Marchbanks Speedway, aka Hanford Motor Speedway."

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