1972 Michigan 200 (partially found footage of USAC Championship Car Season race; 1972)

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This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its discussion of a career-ending motor racing accident/disturbing visuals.


Program for the race.

Status: Partially Found

The 1972 Michigan 200 (also known as the 1972 Michigan Twin 200's) was the fifth race of the 1972 USAC Championship Car Season. Occurring on 16th July at the Michigan International Speedway, the race would ultimately be won by Joe Leonard in a Parnelli-Offenhauser, achieving victory when Eagle-Foyt driver Mel Kenyon ran out of fuel with two laps to go. However, the race is infamous for Merle Bettenhausen's career-ending accident that occurred on lap 3.

Background[edit | edit source]

The 1972 Michigan 200 was the fourth running of the event, the annual race lasting 200 miles.[1] The only 1972 USAC Championship Car Season race to occur at Michigan International Speedway,[2] the track would continue hosting IndyCar races until being dropped from the schedule from 2007 onwards after failing to reach a deal with IndyCar's organizers.[3]

Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Bobby Unser winning the pole position in an Eagle‐Offenhauser with a record speed of 199.778 mph.[4][1] Directly behind him were the McLaren-Offenhausers of Gordon Johncock and Gary Bettenhausen in second and third respectively.[4][1] Joe Leonard started 11th, while Merle Bettenhausen qualified 18th out of 26 competitors in a King-Offenhauser.[1][4]

The Race[edit | edit source]

With the starting order decided, the 1972 Michigan 200 commenced on 16th July.[1] Unser did maintain his lead on the opening lap, only for Gordon Johncock to pass him on lap 2, maintaining it for 15 laps.[1] Further down the field, on lap 3,[1] Bettenhausen lost control of his King while exiting Turn 2, slamming into the outside wall.[5][6] The impact was severe enough for the vehicle to burst into flames, while still travelling at a fast speed down the back straight.[5] Bettenhausen attempted to escape the burning car while it was still moving.[5] As he starting pulling himself out, his right arm hit the fence, causing it to be severed completely.[5][6] By the time the car finally rested, it was ablaze.[5] Bettenhausen was taken to the University of Michigan Hospital, also suffering from third-degree burns to his face and pelvic lacerations.[5][6] While he survived, his full-time racing career was over.[5] He did however win a USAC National Midget Series race and also competed in a USAC Stock Car Series event, both occurring in 1973.[7][8]

When the race resumed on lap 10, Johncock maintained his lead until lap 17 when Unser repassed him.[1] Unser then led the next 46 laps, only to retire because of an oil pressure failure.[1] This enabled the Parnelli-Offenhauser of Mario Andretti to take over, where he engaged in a duel with Mel Kenyon, the latter achieving an overtake on lap 70, only to drop it back to Andretti on lap 75.[1] Andretti's race would end five laps later, however, when a ring failure occurred.[1] Kenyon, therefore, inherited the lead, being 6-7 laps ahead of second-place Leonard, who had managed to move behind Kenyon on lap 80.[6] It looked as if Kenyon would claim victory, only for his car to run out of fuel with two laps remaining.[6][1] Therefore, Leonard gained the lead, holding on to claim victory and $17,892 in prize money.[1][6] Wally Dallenbach finished second in a Lola-Foyt, while Kenyon had done well enough to be classified third.[6][1]

Availability[edit | edit source]

According to IndyCar on TV, the race received live flag-to-flag coverage from ABC.[9] Additionally, according to nascarman History's Top 10 Lost IndyCar Broadcasts, the race was also televised by the TVS Television Network. But of twelve IndyCar races to have been televised by TVS, none are currently publicly available, with the ABC version also missing. Nevertheless, a 13-minute Car and Track video remains viewable, while amateur footage and photos, including of Bettenhausen's crash, can also be accessed.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Videos[edit | edit source]

Car and Track film of the race.
Amateur footage of the event.
Silent amateur footage of Bettenhausen's crash.
nascarman History's Top 10 Lost IndyCar Broadcasts detailing TVS Television Network's IndyCar broadcasts (0:20-0:59).

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]