Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gary Bettenhausen (1941-2014)

Gary Bettenhausen
Courtesy of IndyCar
Quietly, in his home in Monrovia, Gary Bettenhausen died on Sunday night.  

Bettenhausen's death came contrary to how the man lived.  A true racer in every sense of the word, Bettenhausen and his family lived life in a fast manner.  Gary's father, Tony, raced in 14 Indianapolis 500's before being killed during testing.  

It would not be the last tragedy the Bettenhausens would suffer through.  Gary himself was injured in an accident that left him with little use of his left arm.  His younger brother Merle was just three laps into his Champ Car career when an accident robbed him of his right arm and left him severely burned.  Only the youngest Bettenhausen, Tony Jr., would escape injury in the cockpit, but a wheel from his car was punted into the stands by Roberto Guererro's car during the 1987 Indianapolis 500, and it killed Lyle Kurtenbach, a spectator from Wisconsin.  Tony Jr. would die in a plane crash after a successful career as a car owner.  

Through the tragedies, the Bettenhausens raced on, and Gary was the fastest.  Driving for Roger Penske, he nearly won the Indy 500 in 1972 leading 138 laps before a mechanical failure.  In 1980, he drove from last place to third place.  Most of his finishes at Indy were marred by crashes or by mechanical gremlins.  One of his last runs at Indy in 1992 came to end when a tire from Jeff Andretti's wrecked car came out of the sky and bent Bettenhausen's suspension.

Through all the tragedy and heartbreak, Gary Bettenhausen kept going fast, and he kept picking himself up and moving forward.  He pursued his dream of winning Indianapolis until he could no longer do it and stepped out of the car for the final time at Indianapolis in 1994.  His legend certainly will live on.

One of the best drivers to drive in the Indianapolis 500 but never win it, Gary Bettenhausen has gone to that big racetrack in the sky.  Gary is survived by his wife Wavelyn, his three sons, his brother Merle, and his sister Sue.  Gary B. was 72.

No comments: