Former Indy 500 competitor Gary Bettenhausen dies at age 72

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Updated: 3/18 2:21 pm

Indianapolis, IN (SportsNetwork.com) - Gary Bettenhausen, who competed in 21 Indianapolis 500s between 1968 and 1993 and was a member of one of open-wheel racing's most well-known families, passed away on Sunday at his Indiana home. He was 72.

Bettenhausen finished third after starting 32nd in the 1980 Indy 500, which was his career-best finish in that race. He led 138 laps during the 1972 race but came up 18 laps short of finishing it when he suffered engine failure.

In 1993, Bettenhausen was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. Bettenhausen competed in eight NASCAR Winston Cup (now known as Sprint Cup) Series races, with his best finish of fourth coming in June 1974 at Michigan. His Cup Series debut came in the 1967 Daytona 500.

"Gary Bettenhausen was the perfect definition of a race car driver of his time," Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles said in a statement. "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 was the son of Melvin "Tony" Bettenhausen, a 14-time Indy 500 starter in the 1940s and 1950s, as well as the brother of Merle Bettenhausen and the late Tony Bettenhausen Jr., who made 11 Indy 500 starts in the 1980s and '90s and founded the team that later became HVM Racing.

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