Gary Bettenhausen Dies: Indy 500 Race Car Driver Was 72

Monday, 17 Mar 2014 11:46 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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Veteran Indy 500 driver Gary Bettenhausen, 72, who finished third in 1980, died Sunday afternoon.

Between 1968 and 1993 Bettenhausen started in 21 Indianapolis 500s, leading 138 laps in 1972 and clocking in as fastest qualifier in 1991, according to Motorsport.com. He drove for team Penske in the early 1970s.

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Gary is the son of Tony Bettenhausen, a popular frontrunner in the 1950s who started in the Indy 500 a total of 14 times. He was also the brother of Tony Bettenhausen Jr., the founder and team owner of what eventually became HVM racing.

“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 in a statement.

"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.”

In 1974, a severe silver crown-car accident left Bettenhausen's left arm partially paralyzed. Despite it, he won the 1980 and 1983 Silver Crown USAC dirt championships.

He was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1993 for his 1969 and 1971 championships, and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998.

Many fans took to Twitter to express their thoughts and sympathies. One said, "In my opinion, [he] was one of the best to never win the Indy 500." Another tweet that had received nearly 50 retweets said, "We lost another Quintessential American Badass."

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