Indianapolis 500 veteran Gary Bettenhausen passes away at 72

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Indianapolis 500 veteran and a member of one of open-wheel racing’s most legendary families, Gary Bettenhausen has passed away at age 72.

News of the passing began to spread late Sunday night, via Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network announcer and Indy Lights NBCSN pit reporter Jake Query, via Rockingham Speedway track president Andy Hillenburg, and MRN Radio’s Winged Nation show among other sources.

Bettenhausen was son of Tony Bettenhausen, a 14-time ‘500 starter whose best finish was second in 1955, and brother of the late Tony Bettenhausen Jr., and Merle Bettenhusen.

Gary’s final start in American open-wheel racing came at the 1996 U.S. 500, driving a several-year-old Penske chassis for brother Tony Jr. in what CART planned as a rival race to the Indianapolis 500.

But in Gary’s Indianapolis 500 career, he started 21 times between 1968 and 1993 and often overachieved in less than top machinery.

His best result came in 1980 when he finished third, but his best drive occurred in 1972, after leading 138 laps and suffering a late-race mechanical failure. As recently as 1991 he was the fastest qualifier, driving one of John Menard’s Lola-Buicks.

Bettenhausen, one of the best on dirt, came up on the short tracks of the Midwest and was a multi-time sprint car and dirt track champion. He made several NASCAR starts as well.

He was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1993, and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame five years later.

Hillenburg, who made a solitary Indianapolis 500 start in 2000 and also was a veteran NASCAR racer prior to his track ownership career, offered the first brief tribute.

On Monday morning, IMS offered a statement, via track president J. Douglas Boles:

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

We express our condolences.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.