For nearly 20 – 25 years, the Indy 500 was dominated by racing ‘families’. Names like Andretti, Unser, Bettenhausen become legends at the track. It was the best time in racing! Whether they were fathers, son’s uncles and nephew’s…the names was part of the excitement called ‘The Greatest
Spectacle in Racing’. I remember sitting with my dad every year, on the edge of our seats watching to see who raced over the finish line first, to drink that glass of milk.
Mario Andretti (2-28-1940 – still living)
Mario was the first of the family to get into racing, along with his twin brother Arlo. They knew they wanted to race cars even as young as 5 years old, when they ran around the house using pan lids as steering wheels and saying ‘Vroom Vroom’. Born in a little village in Italy, the family came to America when that part of the country was conquered by Yugoslavia after WW II. The family settled in Nazareth Penn, with only $125 in their pocket. He became a naturalized citizen in 1964.
If it was a car, and it could be revved up to race… Mario did it. From the time they moved to America, until his retirement in 2?/, he raced through life. He was in Sprint cars, Midget racing, stock car, drag racing, Indy Car racing, and Formula One racing. Mario is one of 3 drivers ever, to win races on paved oval, road course and dirt track… all in 1 season. Mario now has 2 sons and a nephew racing down the same road he did.
Al Unser (5-29-1939 – still living)
Unlike Mario Andretti, even before Al Sr got into racing, the Unser name was a racing name. But Al was the one who made it legendary. Al had a father and 2 uncles who were race drivers. In 1926, they were in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. In 1929 however, he’s uncle Joe was killed while test driving a FWD Coleman Special in Denver. Older brother Jerry was the first Unser to drive in the Indy 500, qualifying 23rd, but finishing 31st in 1959. But the following year, Jerry was killed from injuries he got in a crash during practice run.
Brother Bobby drove his first Indy 500 in 1963, and in 1968 was the first Unser to win the 500.
Al started in Indy 1965… And won his first Indy 500, 2 years after Bobby, in 1970. He ties with ?? To be a 4-time winner of the Indy 500. The only 2 drivers to do it.
Gary Bettenhausen (10-18-1941 – still living)
Gary is the son of Indy 500 legend, Tony Bettenhausen. Gary began his racing with midgets, and in 1967 finish 3rd in the midget national point standings. In 1969, he won the first part of the Astro Grand Prix, which was in the Astrodome. In 1967 and 1970, he won the Turkey Night Grand
Prix. Gary finally won the Astro Grand Prix in 1972. He has 27 wins in the midget car.
Gary started with Indy Cars from the mid ’60’s until 1993. He never won the Indy 500, but he made 21 starts. He contested each one from 1968 to 1982, then again from 1986 to 1993. He’s best finish was in 1980 when he finished 3rd, from a 32nd starting point.