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Gary Bettenhausen, a 21-time Indy 500 racer, dies at 72

IndyCar legend Gary Bettenhausen has died at age 72, officials with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway said Monday.

Bettenhausen drove in 21 Indianapolis 500s between 1968 and 1993, finishing as high as third in 1980 and leading 138 laps in 1972. He also was the top qualifier in 1991.

A member of a famous racing family, Bettenhausen's father, Indy 500 veteran Tony Bettenhausen, was killed in a practice crash at the speedway in 1961.

“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.”

Fellow racing legend Mario Andretti responded to the news via Twitter:

Sad to hear about the passing of my old pal Gary Bettenhausen. A great competitor & likable guy. My thoughts & prayers go out to his family

— Mario Andretti (@MarioAndretti) March 17, 2014

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