Saturday, September 6, 2008

Memory Of Tony Is Heavy At The Speedway

Bettenhausen's garage is padlocked. (Indianapolis Times Photo)

Memory Of Tony Is Heavy At Speedway

By Rick Johnson-Indianapolis Times, May 14, 1961

Perhaps you don’t believe in ghosts.

But the memory of Tony Bettenhausen hangs heavy over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

And the 150-mile-an-hour lap at the Speedway is unlikely.

Tony was the guy who many thought would break that barrier. The day was perfect. The crowd enormous. And the speeds good.

But something was missing.

The crowd lacked the bubbling enthusiasm so characteristic of the racing set.

They had come to see records shattered. And yet, they knew this was not the day.

Drivers normally described as hard-chargers were almost lackadaisical in the performance of their task.

The voluble Eddie Sachs, who generally takes a firm grip on a microphone and settles down for a long chat with fans, said little, even after he recorded a 10-mile run at a speed of 147.491 to win the pole position for the second year in a row.

Eddie Sachs chats with a masked Tony Bettenhausen at Indy, 1960. (Rick Johnson Photo)

Rookie Norm Hall, who posted a disappointing 141.861, admitted he was “tense and a little nervous.”

Veteran Don Branson, whose 146.843 was the day’s second fastest time, said, “if that’s not good enough to make the field, then I don’t want to be in the race.”

And gutty Shorty Templeman said if his 144.341 didn’t put him in the field of 33, “I’d rather be home in my rocker.”

“Bettenhausen gone? It’s hard to believe.” Those words were spoken hundreds of times by fans…and refrained thousands of times in the minds of others.

Bettenhausen is gone.

His body has been taken to Tinley Park, Ill., for burial.

And with him, most likely, went the 1961 assault on the 150 mile-an-hour lap.

Lloyd Ruby sits in the car of Tony Bettenhausen after the fatal accident. (Rick Johnson Photo)

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