Bettenhausen Tire Flies Into the Stands, Killing a Spectator

<i> From Staff and Wire Reports </i>

A flying wheel from Tony Bettenhausen’s car flew into the viewing area Sunday during the Indianapolis 500 and killed a spectator.

Lyle Kurtenbach, 41, of Rothschild, Wis., died of head injuries after being taken by helicopter to Methodist Hospital.

It was the first spectator fatality during the 500 since 1960 when a homemade scaffold toppled in the third turn, killing two spectators.


The accident occurred on lap 130 between the third and fourth turns when Bettenhausen’s wheel came off and hit the front of Roberto Guerrero’s car. The impact sent it flying through the air, hitting Kurtenbach.

Ten spectators have been killed in the history of the race. The Wisconsin man was the third spectator to be killed by a tire. The other two deaths occurred in 1931 and 1938.

Kurtenbach, a cement additives salesman, regularly attended the Indy 500. He traveled to this year’s race as part of a family reunion with 10 relatives from North Dakota, Minnesota and Kansas.

“(Bettenhausen) feels awful,” said Ted Quackenbush, publicist for Bettenhausen’s team. “He’s really all upset about this. The wheel had been on 56 laps, so you know this was not a pit stop mistake because we had been in twice already. When it’s on 56 laps like that, something else happened.

“Basically, he was going into turn two and felt the wheel coming loose. He kept it (the car) from hitting the wall, brought it down low, and the wheel came off.”

Kevin Frisby, a staff member of the race track ambulatory service, said the Wisconsin man was revived briefly but appeared dead before being flown by helicopter to Methodist Hospital. He was pronounced dead at 1:46 p.m. EST.

Of the half-million people at the speedway, few were aware of the death. A spectator who saw the incident but asked not to be identified said people in the stands tried to get out of the way of the tire.

“The family did not witness it,” he said. “Everybody ducked. They didn’t see him get hit.”

Kurtenbach is survived by his wife, Karen, and a stepdaughter, Dawn.

An autopsy is scheduled for this morning. Funeral services were incomplete.