DETROIT (February 14, 2000) - Championship Auto Racing Teams team owner Tony Bettenhausen Jr., wife Shirley, team partner Russ Roberts and one other unidentified passenger were killed earlier today in a private plane crash in Harrison County, ...
DETROIT (February 14, 2000) - Championship Auto Racing Teams team owner Tony Bettenhausen Jr., wife Shirley, team partner Russ Roberts and one other unidentified passenger were killed earlier today in a private plane crash in Harrison County, Kentucky, according to Bettenhausen Motorsports team manager Joe Ward.
According to Associated Press reports, the crash of Bettenhausen's Beech Baron twin-engine aircraft was reported at approximately 11:45 a.m. near Leesburg, Kentucky with no survivors. According to a Federal Aviation Administration official, the plane was en route to Eagle Creek Air Park in Indianapolis from Tri-City Airport in Blountville, Tenn.
Tony Bettenhausen was 48, Shirley Bettenhausen 47 and Russ Roberts 51. Family members of the fourth victim requested that the identity be withheld at this time.
"This tragedy comes as an absolute shock to everyone in the CART community," CART President and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Craig said. "Tony and Shirley were deeply entwined in the fabric of CART racing and their loss is even more profound because of the fact that along with them perished individuals of equal character and integrity. Our heartfelt thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims at this terrible time."
Bettenhausen, whose family has a strong heritage in Champ Car racing, competed as a driver from 1980-93. He made 97 starts in his 14-year career with a career-best finish of second at Michigan in 1981. Among his career highlights was being named CART's Most Improved Driver and finishing seventh in his inaugural Indianapolis 500, both of which also came in 1981. His top finish in the championship was sixth, also in 1981.
He also competed in NASCAR in 1974, including the Daytona 500. He was the youngest son of a racing family that began with his father, Tony Sr., and included brothers Gary and Merle.
Bettenhausen became a driver/owner in 1986 and two years later purchased a CART franchise. He was entering his 15th season as a CART owner with Michel Jourdain Jr. joining him as the new driver for 2000 season. Other drivers who competed for Bettenhausen were Stefan Johansson (1992-96), Patrick Carpentier (1997), Helio Castro-Neves (1998) and Shigeaki Hattori (1999). Johansson ('92) and Carpentier ('97) won CART Rookie of the Year honors under the tutelage of Bettenhausen. Bettenhausen's best finish as a team owner was second, established by Carpentier at Gateway in '97 and matched by Castro-Neves at Milwaukee in '98.
Shirley Bettenhausen, daughter of former Champ Car driver Jim McElreath, also was very active in the FedEx Championship Series community. She had integral roles in Championship Auto Racing Auxiliary (CARA) as well as the annually successful Runway Madness charity event. Roberts was a longtime friend of Bettenhausen and a key partner in the race team.
Tony and Shirley Bettenhausen are survived by their daughters, Bryn and Taryn, Tony's brothers, Gary and Merle; his sister, Sue; his mother, Val and Shirley's mother, Shirley.
Funeral arrangements are pending.