100 years ago today, Ralph DePalma scored the first of his two Vanderbilt Cup victories, among the 2000-odd races won by won of America's first racing heroes during his epic career.
DePalma and his Mercedes trailed a dominant Teddy Tetzlaff (Fiat) early, but when the Fiat retired with a broken driveshaft, and then outdueled Spencer Wishart (Mercedes) and Hughie Hughes (Mercer) for the win in front of 60,000 fans. The popular DePalma's victory helped lift some of the pall over the event that had been cast by the death of David Bruce-Brown in practice for the event.
DePalma, who had won the 1908, 1909, 1910, and 1911 American AAA national dirt track championships and is credited with winning 24 American champ car races, would return to win the Vanderbilt Cup again in 1914 in a classic strategic victory over archrival Barney Oldfield, as related in the October issue of RACER. His only victory in the Indianapolis 500 came in 1915, but he is perhaps more legendary for not winning in 1912, when he led 196 of the 200 laps only to suffer a mechanical failure, but heroically pushing his stricken car – and his riding mechanic – over the finish line (ABOVE). Unlike the unfortunate Bruce-Brown, and many of his fellow racing pioneers, DePalma enjoyed a long career and remained a signficant presence on the racing scene long after his retirement, serving as an honorary referee at Indy as late as 1954. He died peacefully in 1956 at age 73.
• Ralph DePalma's legendary rivalry with Barbey Oldfield is related in the "Great Rivalries" issue of RACER, on sale now. Look for it at major book stores or better yet, click here to subscribe now at a special discount rate.
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