New book recalls legacy of the racing Bettenhausen family

(Photo courtesy Racemaker Press)
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When famous racing families such as the Foyt’s, Unser’s and Andretti’s are mentioned, it would be remiss not to include another famous racing family that made its mark in motorsports.

From what was then a tiny, rural outpost known as Tinley Park, about 35 miles southwest of Chicago, the name Bettenhausen grew to legendary stature in the racing world — including sprint and midget dirt car racing, the Indianapolis 500 and even Formula One.

The majority of the family members grew up on a 240-acre farm that included having a dirt racetrack carved out of it for the Bettenhausen’s – including father Tony and sons Tony Jr., Gary and Merle – to practice their craft.

The farm is long gone, replaced by a large park that includes the appropriately named Tony Bettenhausen Recreation Center. The centerpiece of the rec center’s lobby is an open-wheel race car that Tony Bettenhausen Jr. once raced in the Indianapolis 500.

While three of the racing Bettenhausen’s have passed on – including father Tony and sons Gary and Tony Jr. – several family members still remain, including Merle and son Mike, who runs two of the family’s auto dealerships in Chicago’s southwest suburbs.

This past weekend, several members of the famous Bettenhausen clan gathered at several events to recall the family’s racing legacy, joined by numerous fans.

The gathering was to promote the release of a new book about the family, “Tony Bettenhausen & Sons: An American Racing Family Album.”

The photo-laden book, authored by well-known auto racing writer Gordon Kirby, also included writing excerpts by Merle and sister Susan Bettenhausen.

“It’s a pictorial. There are 397 pictures in it,” Merle Bettenhausen, now 73, told the Chicago suburban newspaper, The Daily Southtown. “It’s progressive from the day my dad started in 1937 and it goes all the way through the year 2000.”

Merle was involved in a serious crash in 1972 at Michigan International Speedway that claimed his left arm. He continued racing with a prosthetic arm for two more years before retiring shortly after Gary Bettenhausen was involved in a serious crash.

Merle still lives in Indianapolis, not far from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where father Tony was tragically killed May 12, 1961, while practicing for the Indianapolis 500. He was just 44 years old when he perished.

As for other family members, sister Susan, 72, lives in Phoenix. Their cousin Harlan, 73, still lives in Tinley Park.

Among appearances the family members made included the Race Fan Rally in Joliet, Illinois, not far from last weekend’s opening race of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup at nearby Chicagoland Speedway.

Merle and Susan signed copies of the book, recalling stories of their famous racing family for fans.

“There’s a chapter on my dad, with his pictures, then Gary, then me and then Tony,” Merle told the Daily Southtown. “They found pictures for this book that I had never seen before.”

In the book, Merle recalled the family’s racing heritage and roots.

“We grew up at racetracks,” Merle wrote. “We would go to all the races we could drive to, include the Indy 500, Milwaukee, Springfield and DuQuoin, and come back home the same night or next day. Our whole childhood was spent watching our daddy drive race cars.”

Also included in the book is a significant portion about Tony Bettenhausen Jr., who formed his own race team after retiring as an active driver. Among drivers who raced for him in the former CART series was present-day Verizon IndyCar Series star Helio Castroneves, then a young aspiring open-wheel racer.

Tony Jr. and his wife were killed in a plane crash in Kentucky in February 2000. Gary passed away in 2014.

The new book is published by and available for purchase from Racemaker Press.

One of the excerpts written by Merle embodies not only the Bettenhausen family legacy, but also one of its philosophies of life.

“Life’s not determined by wins — life’s determined by character, the quality of an individual and the track record you’ve set for yourself as you lived your life,” Merle Bettenhausen wrote. “I can say very positively that we never won Indy, but we had enough quality and character that Bettenhausen in auto racing will be a name that will always be remembered and always be loved.”

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IndyCar disappointed by delay of video game but aiming to launch at start of 2024

IndyCar video game 2024

An IndyCar executive said there is “absolutely” disappointment that its long-awaited video game recently was delayed beyond its target date, but the series remains optimistic about the new title.

“Well, I don’t know how quick it will be, but the whole situation is important to us,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said during a news conference Monday morning to announce IndyCar’s NTT title sponsorship. “Motorsport Games has spent a lot of money, a lot of effort to create an IndyCar title. What we’ve seen of that effort, which is not completely obvious, is very reassuring.

“I think it’s going to be outstanding. That’s our shared objective, that when it is released, it’s just widely accepted. A great credit both to IndyCar racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, something that our fans love.”

In June 2021, IndyCar announced a new partnership with Motorsport Games to create and distribute an IndyCar video game for the PC and Xbox and PlayStation consoles in 2023.

But during an earnings call last week, Motorsport Games said the IndyCar game had been delayed to 2024 to ensure high quality.

Somewhat compounding the delay is that IndyCar’s license for iRacing expired after the end of the 2022 season because of its exclusive agreement with Motorsport Games.

That’s resulted in significant changes for IndyCar on iRacing, which had provided a high-profile way for the series to stay visible during its 2020 shutdown from the pandemic. (Players still can race an unbranded car but don’t race on current IndyCar tracks, nor can they stream).

That’s helped ratchet up the attention on having a video game outlet for IndyCar.

“I wish we had an IndyCar title 10 years ago,” said Miles, who has been working with the organization since 2013. “We’ve been close, but we’ve had these I think speed bumps.”

IndyCar is hopeful the Motorsports Game edition will be ready at the start of 2024. Miles hinted that beta versions could be unveiled to reporters ahead of the time “to begin to show the progress in a narrow way to make sure we’ve got it right, to test the progress so that we’re ready when they’re ready.”

It’s been nearly 18 years since the release of the most recent IndyCar video game for console or PC.

“(We) better get it right,” Miles said. “It’s something we’re very close to and continue to think about what it is to make sure we get it over the line in due course.”