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March 17, 2014

Action Track great Gary Bettenhausen dies

TERRE HAUTE — Gary Bettenhausen, a legend of the Terre Haute Action Track, has died at age 72.

The versatile race car driver competed on an array of tracks, from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to dirt tracks such as the one in Terre Haute. He was a member of a family renowned in open-wheel racing. The son of Tony Bettenhausen — who ran in 14 Indianapolis 500s and placed second in 1955 — Gary was the brother of the late Tony Bettenhausen Jr. and Merle Bettenhausen.

Gary won the Hulman Classic, in the event’s heyday, at the Action Track in 1974.

Bettenhausen competed in 21 Indianapolis 500s between 1968 and 1993. His best finish was third in 1980. Bettenhausen led 138 laps during the 1972 Indianapolis 500 and was the fastest qualifier for the 1991 Indianapolis 500.

Born in Blue Island, Ill., Bettenhausen grew up in Tinley Park, Ill., and lived in Monrovia, Ind.

Speedway president Doug Boles issued a statement on Bettenhausen’s passing this morning.

“Gary Bettenhausen was the perfect definition of a race car driver of his time,” Boles said. “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. 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.”

Bettenhausen dominated on Midwest short tracks and accumulated numerous sprint car and dirt track championships. He won Indiana’s Hut Hundred in 1976. He was USAC’s Silver Crown series champ in 1980 and ’83, and sprint car champ in 1969 and ’71. He also raced eight times in NASCAR, including the 1967 Dayton 500.

Bettenhausen earned induction into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1993, and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame five years later.

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