Bettenhausen fastest qualifier, but day too late for Indy pole

May 13, 1991|By Shav Glick | Shav Glick,Los Angeles Times

INDIANAPOLIS -- Thirty years to the day after his father, Tony, was killed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Gary Bettenhausen ran four laps yesterday at 224.468 mph to become the fastest qualifier for the 75th Indianapolis 500.

Bettenhausen's 10-mile run in a Buick-powered Lola bettered the Pole Day speed of Rick Mears, who did 224.113 Saturday to take the No. 1 position for the May 26 race. It was typical of the Bettenhausen luck at Indianapolis that his fast time came a day too late.

The 49-year-old veteran from nearby Monrovia, Ind., will start 13th, on the inside of the fifth row and behind all first-day qualifiers, including Scott Goodyear, who ran only 216.751.

It will be the first time since 1981 that the fastest car will not start on the pole. Tom Sneva was the fastest that year when he ran a record 200.691 mph, but he had to start 20th because his new car did not arrive at the Speedway in time to qualify on the first day.

Bettenhausen missed out Saturday because he, along with such others as Emerson Fittipaldi, Arie Luyendyk and Kevin Cogan, decided to wait until late in the day and take advantage of cooler conditions. Their plan backfired when it rained before the temperature dropped.

"It just turned into a deal where we got caught by Mother Nature," Bettenhausen said. "She fooled us."

Tony Lee Bettenhausen, Gary's younger brother, who qualified moments later at 218.188, put the irony in perspective.

"It was typical Bettenhausen luck," Tony Lee said. "Highest speed. Wrong day."

Indianapolis has never been kind to the Bettenhausens. Tony was killed while testing a car for a friend, Paul Russo, two weeks before the 500 in 1961. Bettenhausens have driven in 41 Indy 500s without winning -- the original Tony in 14, Gary in 18 and young Tony in nine.

The closest the family came was in 1972 when Gary Bettenhausen led 138 of 200 laps in a Penske car and appeared to have the race in hand when an ignition problem halted the car 17 laps from the finish.

The highest they ever finished was a second to Bob Sweikert for father Tony in 1955, but even that moment was bittersweet. Bill Vukovich, Tony's close friend, was killed during the race.

"This is awfully emotional for me," Gary said as tears welled. "It was just 30 years ago that we were home packing our clothes, getting ready to come to Indianapolis, when our father was killed."

Tony Lee added: "It didn't sink in for three or four day. When there was a mountain of flowers on my dad's grave about 25 feet high, that's when it sunk in. But let's dwell on the positives now. Let's talk about what a hell of a job Gary did."

Bettenhausen's car was prepared by Menard Motorsports of Eau Claire, Wis.

"The big difference between this Buick and ones we had here in the past is that Buick used to put their engines in an existing car that was built for a Cosworth or a Chevrolet or a Judd or an old chassis that somebody sold," Bettenhausen explained. "Last year, all the Buick engines were in '89 chassis, and we knew they were obsolete the minute the new rules came out. We didn't have a chance.

"This year, Buick got together with Lola and had a chassis built specifically for the Buick engine. It is probably 70 pounds heavier than the other engines, and you've got to remember, it was designed for a passenger car, but it was a great combination today."

Bettenhausen's four laps were the second fastest in Indy historyOnly Fittipaldi's track-record 225.301 set last year is faster.

Bettenhausen received $20,000 for being fastest on the seconday of qualifying. Bettenhausen probably will receive another $10,000 for having the fastest single lap in qualifying -- 224.843 on his second lap -- unless someone betters it next weekend. That is most unlikely, because all the cars that showed top speed during practice have qualified.

Indy 500 tentative lineup

Row 1

1. Rick Mears, Bakersfield, Calif., No.3, Penske-Chevrolet, 224.113. 2. A.J. Foyt, Houston, No.14, Lola-Chevrolet, 222.443. 3. Mario Andretti, Nazareth, Pa., No.6, Lola-Chevrolet, 221.818.

Row 2

4. Bobby Rahal, Dublin, Ohio, No.18, Lola-Chevrolet, 221.401. 5. Michael Andretti, Nazareth, Pa., No.10, Lola-Chevrolet, 220.943. 6. Al Unser Jr., Albuquerque, N.M.,, No.2, Lola-Chevrolet, 219.823.

Row 3

7. John Andretti, Indianapolis, No.4, Lola-Chevrolet, 219.059. 8. Jim Crawford, Scotland, No.26, Lola-Buick, 218.947. 9. Danny Sullivan, Vail, Colo., No.20, Lola-Alfa Romeo, 218.343.

Row 4

10. Eddie Cheever, Vail, Colo., No.8, Lola-Chevrolet, 218.122. 11. R-Jeff Andretti, Nazareth, Pa., No.86, Lola-Cosworth, 217.632. 12. Scott Goodyear, Canada, No.15, Lola-Judd, 216.751.

Row 5

13. Gary Bettenhausen, Monrovia, Ind., No.51, Lola-Buick, 224.468. 14. Arie Luyendyk, Netherlands, No.1, Lola-Chevrolet, 223.881. 15. Emerson Fittipaldi, Brazil, No.5, Penske-Chevrolet, 223.064.

Row 6

16. Kevin Cogan, Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., No.9, Lola-Buick, 222.844. 17. Stan Fox, Janesville, Wis., No.91, Lola-Buick, 219.501. 18. R-Mike Groff, Northridge, Calif., No.50, Lola-Cosworth, 219.015.

Row 7

19. Scott Brayton, Coldwater, Mich., No.22, Lola-Chevrolet, 218.627. 20. Tony Lee Bettenhausen, Indianapolis, No.16, 1990 Penske-Chevy, 218.188. 21. Bernard Jourdain, Mexico, No.48, 1990 Lola-Buick, 216.683.

Row 8

22. Geoff Brabham, Australia, No.21, Truesports-Judd, 214.859.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.