Gary Bettenhausen has died.
One of America’s most popular and enduring race car drivers died Sunday at age 72.
Bettenhausen made 21 starts in the Indianapolis 500 between 1968 and 1993. He was on track to win the race in 1972 when he led 138 laps while driving for Roger Penske, but mechanical problems forced him out of the race. His best finish in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing came in 1980 when he drove from the back of the field to finish third.
Bettenhausen, who gained fame and a broad fan base by winning frequently on America’s dirt tracks, is the son of 14-time Indy 500 starter Tony Bettenhausen. His brothers, Tony Jr., who preceded him in death, and Merle, were also race car drivers.
A native of Illinois, Bettenhausen won the 1967 and 1971 USAC sprint car championships and claimed Silver Crown titles in 1980 and 1983. He also made eight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts during his career.
Bettenhausen was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
“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.”