Gary Bettenhausen has passed away, aged 72. Bettenhausen won the USAC Sprint car championship in 1969 and ’71 and led most of the Indy 500 in 1972, driving a McLaren-Offy for Roger Penske, before a late ignition failure allowed team-mate Mark Donohue to score Penske’s first Indy 500 victory.
Gary was the oldest of 1951 and ’58 Indycar champion Tony Bettenhausen’s three sons. He, Merle and Tony Jr all went on to race Indycars and Gary was most successful, starting no fewer than 21 Indy 500s and winning four USAC championship races between 1968-’73.
Gary started his career in stock cars and made his USAC Championship debut in 1966. He took his first Indianapolis start in 1968 before scoring his maiden Indycar win at Phoenix at the end of that year. Gary won again at Michigan in 1970 and was hired by Roger Penske in 1972, winning at Trenton that April.
In 1974 Gary was seriously injured in a mid-season sprint car accident that sidelined him for the rest of the year and left him with restricted use of his left arm. As a result he was dropped by Penske but continued to race Indycars, midgets and sprint cars through to 1993.
Gary scored his best Indianapolis result in 1980, finishing third in an outdated Wildcat-Offy against the Cosworth V8-powered front-runners.
He is survived by his wife Wavelyn and sons Gary Jr, Cary and Todd. Gordon Kirby