The People of IMS

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Mike Hiss

Roger Penske has had the best of racing in his cars at Indianapolis — Emerson Fittipaldi, Rick Mears, Helio Castroneves, Al Unser, Mark Donohue. Back in 1974, his drivers were Mike Hiss and Gary Bettenhausen. And Hiss put the Penske entry into its now-familiar spot on the front row for the 500-mile classic.

Hiss competed in four “500s” with a best finish of seventh in 1972, but he drew the attention of the legendary RP. Today, Hiss is rehabbing from back problems and feels he’ll be back to readiness in a few months.

“Old age kinda creeps up on us,” said Hiss, 68, of Lake Forest, Calif. “I have the mind of a 30-year-old and the body of a 90-year-old.”

After his racing career, he started a mortgage loan processing company and produced software for it for 13 years. Then came perhaps the most critical portion of his life.

He developed lymphoma, but treatment, radiation and a bone marrow transplant saved him. “We think that when I got cancer 20 years ago in 1990 and had a bone marrow transplant, the bones were weakened from all the radiation,” Mike said. “That’s probably what’s causing my problem today.” After his finish in 1972, Penske took the look at him.

“In my rookie year in 1972, I was driving the STP Windshield Wiper Special and Mark Donohue won the race,” Hiss said. “Mark was injured in a Can-Am race and just before the California 500, Roger asked me to drive for him. On ‘74, Roger asked me to be Gary’s teammate, and I was thrilled.

Hiss pitched in later for Penske in 1978. When Mario Andretti had a conflict with his Formula One schedule. Penske called Hiss and Hiss qualified the car solidly, so Andretti could start it in the 33rd spot.

“I’ve always been in awe of the Indy 500,” Hiss said. “I can remember listening to it with my dad on radio. I’ve visited a couple times through the years, but I think 1985 was my last time there. I’d love to say hi to the guys and hear their stories.

I can remember the old-timers telling us how it was when they raced. I’d like to get better and come back. I watch all the Indy car races on television, and I’m so glad they got back together again.”

Hiss plans to go back to the mission he undertook to help those who are facing the same challenges. “The last 14 years, I’ve been with the cancer support group for our church,” he said.

He keeps in touch with people back in Indy. “My former chief mechanic, Dave Klym, I still keep in touch with him,” Hiss said. “I talked to Jerry Grant a few years ago, too.”

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Fun Fact #19
The Indianapolis 500 race is broadcast in 213 countries and reaches over 292 million households.
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