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Ex-Auto Driver Dies in Plane Crash

February 15, 2000

LEESBURG, Ky. (AP) _ Tony Bettenhausen Jr’s family roots ran deep in the brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Bettenhausen, 48, his wife, Shirley, and two men died Monday when the small private plane they were flying in crashed into a hilly farm field about 30 miles north of Lexington.

Shirley Bettenhausen was the daughter of longtime Indy car driver Jim McElreath. The two men killed were identified as Russ Roberts, a partner in Bettenhausen’s racing team, and Larry Rangel, an Indiana businessman.

The plane took off from Tri-City Airport in Blountville, Tenn., for Indianapolis, the Federal Aviation Administration said. The Bettenhausens were returning home from CART team testing in Homestead, Fla.

An investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board said the plane filed an instrument flight plan and was in contact with air traffic controllers before the crash. No other details were provided.

``Tony was always a gentleman,″ said Dick Jordan, a spokesman for the U.S. Auto Club. ``We certainly will miss him, as will everybody in the racing community.″

Tony Lee Bettenhausen, one of three racing brothers, drove Indy cars from 1979-93, and raced 11 times in the Indianapolis 500. He had 103 career starts in Indy cars, with a best finish of second. He was USAC rookie of the year in 1979.

He started racing stock cars in 1969, joined the Winston Cup circuit in 1974 and competed in the USAC stock and midget divisions in 1975-76.

``The tragic loss of Tony and Shirley leaves a tremendous void in the racing fraternity,″ said Tony George, owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Bettenhausen’s father, also Tony, was a two-time USAC national champion who raced at the Indianapolis 500 from 1946-60 and was killed in practice at the Speedway in 1961.

The younger Tony Bettenhausen bought a CART team in 1988 and made his last start at the Indy 500 in 1993. As an owner in Championship Auto Racing Teams, he fielded two rookies of the year, Patrick Carpentier (1997) and Stefan Johansson (1992).

The oldest son in the family, Gary, began racing stock cars in 1965. He made his Indy car debut at Phoenix in 1966 and the first of 21 starts at Indianapolis in 1968.

Merle Bettenhausen drove champ cars, dirt cars, sprints and midgets before coming to Indianapolis in 1972. He passed his rookie test that year but never made a qualification attempt before losing his arm in an accident.

Tony Lee Bettenhausen earned $2.4 million in his driving career and his CART team earned nearly $6 million in prize money with 13 different drivers.

He struggled with financing in the last few years and was expected to run a car for Michel Jourdain in the 2000 CART FedEx Championship series.

He had two daughters with his wife: Bryn, 18, and Taryn, 13.

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