INDIANAPOLIS — It all seems to run in loops, nice and tidy circles, for Kyle Moyer.
On Memorial Day weekend, he spent most of his Sunday afternoon shepherding Simon Pagenaud through the Indianapolis 500 and closed it by sharing the winner’s circle with his Team Penske mates.
Forty-seven years earlier, in 1972, he’d attended the 500 for the first time. That one, too, fell to a Penske driver in Mark Donohue.
That ’72 race played a bigger role in Moyer’s life than he could have imagined. It was something of a wonder that he was there at all.
No one else in the Moyer clan — then living in Greenwood, Ind., 20 miles south of Indianapolis Motor Speedway — was interested in motorsports.
But family custom allowed each child to choose how he or she wanted to celebrate a birthday, and Kyle, at eight years old, blazed his own trail.
“My brothers and sisters would pick Pacers games and things like that,” said Moyer, standing outside Penske’s Gasoline Alley garage. “But in 1972, I convinced them to take me here, to watch the 500.”
That race sits in the history books as Roger Penske’s first — and Donohue’s only — Indianapolis score. Sentimentalists remember it for the run turned in by Gary Bettenhausen in Penske’s other entry.
Bettenhausen led 138 laps and victory in the great race would have gilded the legacy left by his father, two-time national champion Tony Bettenhausen, who won everywhere except Indianapolis and died there in 1961. But a pinhole leak in the cooling system of Bettenhausen’s McLaren cooked its engine and parked him after 182 laps.
That heartbreak left a mark on all who witnessed it, including the Moyer boy on his birthday outing.
You can imagine the surprise a few years down the road, when the Moyer family moved two dozen miles west to Monrovia, Ind., and young Kyle discovered that his new neighbor was Bettenhausen.
He became fast friends with Gary’s twin sons, Todd and Cary, and the Bettenhausen race shop became a regular hangout. When he was 14, “Gary put a wrench in my hand and started figuring out what I could do.”
Moyer learned the ropes laboring on Bettenhausen’s sprint car and from 1980-82 helped prepare mounts Gary raced at Indianapolis for Sherman Armstrong and Lindsey Hopkins.
Those cars were old and tired, but they were good enough to make the 500, and that was what mattered.
A 1974 dirt-track flip had ruined Bettenhausen’s left arm and with it his shot at the headline rides, but still the speedway pulled at him like gravity.
Like all who toiled for Bettenhausen — whose pals dubbed him “The Fuhrer” — Moyer cherishes his memories.
“Gary was tough,” said Moyer, “but I’ve always been glad he was. Working for him kept me out of trouble, and taught me a lot.
“The attitude I have today and the way I go racing — my whole mindset — came mainly from him.”
Moyer and his mindset have bounced around quite a bit. He left Bettenhausen in 1984 to take a job with Dan Gurney’s All American Racers — “Gary didn’t talk to me for a little while” — and then did stints with Ron Hemelgarn’s team and Galles Racing.
In 1992, Moyer first tasted victory at Indianapolis with Galles and Al Unser Jr. It was an enormous relief to Moyer, who’d seen Bettenhausen go 0-for-life in the 500.
“We almost had the win in ’89,” said Moyer said. “But Al Jr. got knocked out in that crash with Emerson (Fittipaldi). When that happens, you wonder: Will I ever get this chance again?”
He won a second 500 in 1995, with Forsythe Racing and Jacques Villeneuve. But then the sport blew itself apart, with CART on one side and the Indy Racing League on the other. Moyer, working for CART teams, missed every Indianapolis 500 from 1996-2000.
He’d been with Bettenhausen long enough to develop his own magnetic attraction to the speedway, so racing elsewhere in May was “a killer.”
He finally got back there in 2001, with driver Michael Andretti, as part of a joint effort between CART’s Team Green and the IRL’s Panther Racing.
From there, things have gone pretty well: With Andretti Green Racing and Andretti Autosport, Moyer had a hand in the Indianapolis triumphs of Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti and Ryan Hunter-Reay; since his 2015 move to Team Penske, where he is now general manager of the IndyCar program, he’s celebrated after the 500 with Juan Montoya, Will Power and now Pagenaud.
He can’t pick a favorite Indy win because “each one is special for a different reason. But winning here never gets old.”
Someone asked Moyer what Gary Bettenhausen, who died in 2014, might have made of his success at the track they both loved most.
“I hope he’d be proud of me,” said Moyer. “I think he would be. He’d probably be giving me crap for not going to more sprint car races, but he’d be happy for me because of what this place meant to him. Especially now that I’m at Penske; I’m finishing something here that he didn’t get to.
“It has come full circle.”
Doesn’t it always?