Throwback Thursday - Gary Bettenhausen

March 10, 2016

Team Penske will be celebrating our 50th anniversary in motorsports in 2016. To bring you some of the terrific stories of our five-decade run of excellence, Team Penske is running weekly online features highlighting some of our drivers and our key events. We hope you enjoy this memorable time in our history.

Gary Bettenhausen

The Bettenhausen name is synonymous with open-wheel racing in America. Gary Bettenhausen, the son of Indianapolis 500 and sprint car legend Tony Bettenhausen, made 27 INDYCAR starts and five NASCAR starts for Team Penske from 1972-1974. His brother, Tony, is a former INDYCAR driver and team owner.

Bettenhausen, a native of Tinley Park, Illinois, won sprint car championships in 1969 and 1971 while also competing part-time in INDYCAR. He made his Team Penske debut in the 1972 season opener at Phoenix International Raceway, qualifying his No. 7 Sunoco McLaren in the fourth position before crossing the finish line in eighth-place. He scored his first victory for the team – and his third career win – just one race later at Trenton (N.J.) Speedway in dominating fashion, leading 85 of the 134 laps.

The third race of the 1972 INDYCAR season came in the form of the Indianapolis 500, a race Team Penske had yet to win. For most of the event it looked as though Bettenhausen would be the driver to give Roger Penske a victory in the race he held higher than any other, but an ignition issue with 24 laps remaining ended his hopes of winning the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” However, Team Penske still reigned supreme that day as Mark Donohue took over the lead with 13 laps remaining and took his first victory in the race.

Bettenhausen continued to compete in INDYCAR for Team Penske through the 1974 season, scoring another win at Texas World Speedway in College Station in 1973, along with a pole position at Michigan International Speedway earlier that year. Bettenhausen would race in INDYCAR – mostly in the Indianapolis 500 – through the 1991 season. He finished his career with six wins and four pole positions.

In addition to his open-wheel career, Bettenhausen made five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts for Team Penske during the 1974 season. His best finish of second came on two occasions, at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, while driving the iconic AMC Matador.

Bettenhausen was honored for his achievement with inductions into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1993 and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998.