Saturday, May 12, 2018

Melvin "Tony" Bettenhausen Dies In Crash At Indianapolis - May 12, 1961

September 12, 1916 - May 12, 1961
Melvin "Tony" Bettenhausen
Born at Tinley Park, Illinois, USA. 
Bettenhausen was the father of Gary Bettenhausen, Tony Bettenhausen, Jr. and Merle Bettenhausen. He was nicknamed the "Tinley Park Express" in honor of his hometown. He was nicknamed "Tunney" after heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney. "Tunney" later became "Tony."

Bettenhausen was part of the midget car "Chicago Gang" with Emil Andres, Cowboy O'Rourke, Paul Russo, Jimmy Snyder, and Wally Zale. They toured tracks in the Midwest and East Coast of the United States. He won the track championship at the Milwaukee Mile in 1942, 1946, and 1947. He was the Chicago Raceway Park champion in 1941, 1942, and 1947. He won the 1959 Turkey Night Grand Prix, and the Hut Hundred in 1955 and 1956.

He drove in the AAA and USAC Championship Car series, racing in the 1941 and 1946-1961 seasons with 121 starts, including 14 in the Indianapolis 500. He finished in the top ten 74 times, with 21 victories.

He won the National Championship in 1951 after recording eight victories and two second place finishes in fourteen events. He announced his retirement from all racing but the Indianapolis 500 after the season. He decided to return full-time for the 1954 season. He was involved in a midget car wreck in Chicago, suffering head injuries after striking a concrete wall. He was in critical condition for several days.

He prearranged to co-drive with Chicago Gang friend Paul Russo in the 1955 Indianapolis 500. They finished second. In 1958 he became the first driver to win the national championship without a win. He was assured the title with a second place finish at Phoenix. He finished second in the national championship to Rodger Ward in 1959.

Bettenhausen was killed in 1961 in a crash at Indianapolis while testing a Stearly Motor Freight Special vehicle for Paul Russo. The car smashed into the outside wall of the track and then rolled 325 feet along the barrier. The car came to rest in a grassy plot between the wall and Grandstand A, with the tail of the car on fire. Results showed the accident was caused by an anchor bolt which fell off the front radius rod support, allowing the front axle to twist and misaligned the front wheels when the brakes were applied, which drove the car into the wall.

Bettenhausen was inducted in the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1985, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1991, and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1997.

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