Tony Bettenhausen & Sons: An American Racing Family Album

by Steve Zautke

We read books for several reasons, pleasure and entertainment. Some perhaps read for research, learning about our past or delving in on a particular subject. As a kid, my passion was auto racing. I loved reading the Bill Libby biographies of the 1960’s and 1970’s, as well as Brock Yates, Lyle Kenyon Engle or the yearly Indianapolis 500 yearbooks.

There have been those books that rehash a lot of the same stories and same photos. However, when Racemaker Press releases a book that is something you don’t have to worry about. Add author Gordon Kirby to the mix and you have a winning combination.

Kirby’s latest book is, Tony Bettenhausen & Sons An American Racing Family Album. This fine hardcover book with over 350 photographs, many never published before dives into a racing family that has sacrificed a great deal. It is the perfect companion and compliment to Carl Hungness’ epic book, Go! The Bettenhausen Story published in 1982. Nonetheless as Kirby mentions, “But more than thirty years later with advice and assistance from Merle and Susan Bettenhausen we decided to take a fresh, pictorial look at the family using Racemaker Press’s superb photo archive as well as the family’s and Merle’s personal collections.”

The Bettenhausen patriarch, Tony started his racing career in 1937 and really started to hit his stride on the tough Midwest sprint and Midwest bullrings when WWII broke out. After the war Tony continued to rise to the top of the racing ranks. Even though he was a two-time National Champion, one dream was out of reach, the Indianapolis 500. Although Tony and his oldest son, Gary, won many races and championships, achieving success in the highest ranks of motorsports, they tend not to be mentioned like the other successful racing families such as the Andrettis or Unsers in Indy Car racing or the Allison Gang or Petty and Earnhardt clans in NASCAR.

Following their older brother Gary into auto racing, Merle and Tony, Jr. both have their own chapters in the book which add to the “visual odyssey of the Bettenhausen family’s epic story.” Featuring over 350 outstanding photos and is enlivened by Merle and Susan Bettenhausen’s personal recollections, observations and commentary about their father, brothers and family. The book is completed with full statistical data of the Bettenhausens’ championship racing careers.

This book is highly recommended and will be a treasured addition in your motorsports library which I feel you’ll be wanting to page through several times.

The family never won the Indianapolis 500, however Merle sums it up well in book, “Life’s not determined by wins — life’s determined by character, the quality of an individual and the track record you’ve set for yourself as you lived your life.”

225 Pages
Dimensions – 10.25 x 9.25 x 1.125 in
Author – Gordon Kirby
ISBN – 978-1-935240-12-9
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Steve Zautke, a Milwaukee, WI native, was raised in the sport of auto racing. His father, Bill, was a movie photographer that shot racing footage at tracks such as the Milwaukee Mile and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the 1960’s and 1970’s Steve’s first professional job in racing was as an Emergency Medical Technician at tracks such as Angell Park and Hales Corners Speedway (1988-1991). Steve has also worked for the Milwaukee Mile as videographer, in media relations and historian (1993-2011). Steve also has worked as a reporter for Racing Information Systems (RIS) and has written features for ‘Vintage Oval Racing’ and ‘Victory Lane’ magazines. Most recently, Steve has written a book on Road America for Arcadia Publishing. ( ) Steve co-hosts “Sparky’s Final Inspection” a motorsports-based radio show with hosts, Steve “Sparky” Fifer and “NASCAR Girl” Summer Santana on Sports Radio 1250AM in Milwaukee and is also available on the internet at A member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Induction Committee, Steve follows all types of racing from the dirt tracks to Formula One.