Gary Bettenhausen


Record updated 18-Nov-06

Son of Indianapolis 500 and sprint car legend Tony Bettenhausen, Gary raced at Indy 21 times with a best finish of 3rd in 1980 having started back in 32nd place. He led the 1972 running but his car failed with just 17 laps to go. He lost most of the use of his left arm in a crash in 1974 but raced on undeterred.

Gary Bettenhausen
The eldest son of sprint car legend Tony Bettenhausen, Gary was born in Monrovia, Indiana, and started racing in midgets before moving up to sprint cars and the Indianapolis 500.

Tutored by some of the best in the business, Gary was not satisfied to be just a driver. In 1970 he built a monocoque midget chassis with the aid of Harry Turner.

In 1969 he won the first leg of the “Astro Grand Prix” held in the Houston Astrodome. He won the “Turkey Night Grand Prix” in 1967 and 1970, the “Astro Grand Prix” again in 1972 and the “Hut Hundred” in 1976. Gary was third in the 1967 midget division points and has recorded 27 USAC midget wins.

He won the 1969 and 1971 sprint car championships.

He also competed in eight career NASCAR Winston Cup events. He had four Top 10 finishes. His highest career finish was a fourth place finish at the 1974 Motor State 360 at the Michigan International Speedway in 1974.

He continued racing running midgets and sprints and, in 1974, was seriously injured while qualifying for a dirt car race at Syracuse, N.Y.. This left his left arm with major nerve damage and it ended up only being good for holding a can of beer or a cigarette.

That would have been enough for most drivers to call it a day, buy Garry is one of a very special breed and he was back in a car for the 1975 USAC midget season opener at Fort Wayne's Memorial Coliseum. He had been released from his drive with Penske while still in hospital and now he was being strapped back into a midget by his brother Merle.

So there was Gary, left arm hanging lifelessly by his side, with Merle, whose right arm was severed in his Indy-car debut at Michigan in 1972. They jocked that they shoud write an autobiography called "Farewell To Arms."

During one of the heats Gary's arm fell off the steering wheel and he couldn't get it back so it just flopped back and forth against the side of the car.

So for the final they got some velcro and velcroed his hand to the steering wheel. Starting 10th, Bettenhausen steadily moved up before taking the lead on Lap 65 and holding it to the checkered flag.

In 1980 and 1983 he won the Dirt Track Championship (USAC Silver Crown).

Despite never having another top quality Indy ride the rest of his career, Gary went on to qualify for 14 more Indy 500s and in 1980 started back in 32nd and charged through to finish third.

Gary made a total of 21 starts in the Indy 500, contesting ever race between 1968 and 1982, with the exception of 1979 when he failed to qualify, and again between 1986 and 1993. In 1972 driving the blue and yellow Sunoco McLaren he started 4th and led for 138 laps. He came within 17 laps of victory but the car let him down almost insight of the line. In 1991 he was the fastest qualifier for the Indianapolis 500. He competed in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race for the twenty-first time in 1993.

His final race was at the only Champ Car 500 miler in 1996. Run at the Michigan International Speedway on the same day as the IRL's first running of the Indy 500, he borrowed a two-year-old Penske chassis from his brother. The race saw a massive multi-car pileup at the start. He avoided the chaos but was off the pace and retired early with mechanical problems.

Now lives & works on his farm near Monrovia, Indiana & acts as a sometime driving & team advisor. Also heavily involved in property development, running his own estate agency. Brother of Tony Jr, son of Tony Sr.