Photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway

1972 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Mike Hiss passes away at 77

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials announced Thursday that 1972 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Mike Hiss has passed away.

Hiss, 77, died December 19 in Evansville, Indiana, “following a near-30-year battle with cancer-related issues,” per an IMS media release.

Hiss competed in four Indianapolis 500s, with his best finish being a seventh-place showing in his rookie effort in the 1972 edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

All told, Hiss made 28 career starts in USAC open-wheel competition, with his best finish being a runner-up showing in 1972 at Ontario, as well as third-place finishes at Ontario and Michigan in 1973.

Hiss was born in Norwalk, Connecticut and raised in Sarasota, Florida.

He was bitten early by the auto racing bug when his father took him to watch the 12 Hours of Sebring sports car endurance race.

That would lead to Hiss eventually beginning his own racing career in Sports Car Club of America competition, as well as taking part in Formula A, Formula B and Formula 5000 before moving into USAC’s open-wheel series in 1972.

Shortly after his rookie run in the Indy 500, Hiss replaced the injured Mark Donohue for team owner Roger Penske in the Ontario 500, where he earned his best-ever career finish, trailing only race winner Roger McCluskey.

He would go on to win 1972 USAC National Championship Rookie of the Year honors.

Hiss’ other major career highlight included qualifying on the outside of the front row for Penske’s team in the 1974 Indy 500, alongside pole sitter A.J. Foyt and Wally Dallenbach. Filling in for Peter Revson, who had been tragically killed in an F1 race prior to his planned appearance at Indianapolis, Hiss finished 14th in that race.

Hiss would make two other starts for Penske in 1974 at Michigan International Speedway, finishing seventh in July and fourth in September.

He would once again drive for Penske, qualifying for the 1978 Indianapolis 500 in place of Mario Andretti, who was racing at Spa-Franchorchamps in the Belgian Grand Prix and was unable to make the rained-out qualifying weekend in Indy.

Hiss put Penske’s car in the show, although it ultimately began the 500 in 33rd place when Andretti returned for the actual race itself.

Qualifying in Andretti’s place would be Hiss’ last foray in a race car.

Hiss would also be a part of another significant moment in Indy car history. Hiss served as coach for his first wife, Arlene, who took part in a March 1976 test at Phoenix International Raceway, driving for a team whose partners included driver Lloyd Ruby and chief mechanic Mike Devin.

Arlene turned enough respectable lap speeds to qualify 24th for the 1976 season-opening race at PIR, making her the first female to ever start in an open-wheel Championship race (she finished 14th in what would be her only career start).

Hiss is survived by Connie, his wife of 42 years; son, Brian and his wife, Getter; daughter, Jennie and her husband, Mike Freisem; plus two grandsons, Landon Anderson and Levi Freisem.

Donations in Hiss’ memory are being accepted at Crossroads Christian Church, 10800 Lincoln Ave., Newburgh, IN 47630.

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Alex Zanardi showing signs of interaction three months after crash

Alex Zanardi recovery
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MILAN — Italian racing driver turned Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi has started responding to treatment with signs of interaction, more than three months after he was seriously injured in a handbike crash.

Zanardi has spent most of that time in intensive care after crashing into an oncoming truck during a relay event near the Tuscan town of Pienza on June 19.

“For several days now. Alex Zanardi has undergone cognitive and motor rehabilitation sessions, with the administration of visual and acoustic stimuli, to which the patient responds with momentary and initial signs of interaction,” the San Raffaele hospital in Milan said in a statement Thursday.

The hospital said that is “significant progress” but added that his condition remains serious, and that it would be “absolutely premature” to make a long-term prognosis.

Zanardi, 53, suffered serious facial and cranial trauma in the crash and was put in a medically induced coma. Doctors have warned of possible brain damage.

He was operated on several times to stabilize him and reconstruct his severely damaged face and the Milan hospital added that he recently had undergone another surgery to reconstruct his skull and would have another one in the coming weeks.

Zanardi lost both of his legs in an auto racing crash nearly 20 years ago. He won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He also competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.