OPEN WHEEL: USAC champion, Indy 500 starter Bettenhausen dies at 72

RaceChaser Staff Featured, Midwest, Other Midgets, Other Sprint Cars, Sprints & Midgets, USAC, Verizon IndyCar Series 0 Comments

March 17, 2014 — staff report — INDYCAR photo — MONROVIA, IN — Legendary open wheel star Gary Bettenhausen, born and reared in Illinois, died Sunday at his Indiana home. He was 72.

He was the son of Melvin “Tony” Bettenhausen, a 14-time Indy 500 starter in the 1940s and 1950s (best finish of second in ’55), the brother of Merle Bettenhausen and the late Tony Bettenhausen Jr., who made 11 Indy 500 starts in the 1980s and ‘90s and founded the team that eventually became HVM Racing.

Bettenhausen also won six USAC Indy car races – the first in November 1968 on the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval.

In 21 Indianapolis 500 starts between 1968 and 1993, Bettenhausen posted a best finish of third in 1980 when he charged from 32nd on the starting grid in the No. 46 Wildcat/DGS. He was on track to win the great race in 1972 driving for Roger Penske, leading 138 of the 200 laps after starting fourth, only to incur an overheating issue with 18 laps to go that forced him out of the race.

“Gary Bettenhausen was the perfect definition of a race car driver of his time. He raced successfully in many types of cars, on every type of track, and he possessed a work ethic that earned him rides based on his ability and his competitive nature,” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles.

“Gary will best be remembered by Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans for the manner in which he carried the Bettenhausen family’s passion for the Indianapolis 500 and how he drove every lap at the limit when he was competing at IMS. Our thoughts and prayers are with Gary’s wife, his family, and his friends.”

But many would contend that Bettenhausen’s talents were best displayed on the dirt tracks of the Midwest, where the “Larry and Gary Show” packed the venues for the USAC Sprints.

A member of one of open-wheel racing’s most well-known and respected families, Bettenhausen won the 1969 and 1971 USAC Sprint Car championship. He also won the 1980 and ’83 USAC Silver Crown dirt championship — after a 1974 accident while driving a Silver Crown car in Syracuse, N.Y., rendered his left arm partially paralyzed.

Bettenhausen, who totaled 82 USAC victories, was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1993 and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. He also competed in eight NASCAR Winston Cup races with four top-10 finishes.

All the staff of RaceChaser Online and Speed77 Radio sends their thoughts, prayers and well wishes to the Bettenhausen family and the open wheel community on the loss of Gary Bettenhausen, open wheel legend.

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