Ralph DePalma

Ralph DePalma

Biccari, Provincia di Foggia, Puglia, Italy
Death 31 Mar 1956 (aged 73)
Pasadena, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Burial Culver City, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Memorial ID 277 · View Source
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Race Car Driver. From 1911 until 1925 he competed in 10 Indianapolis 500 races, winning in 1915 and finishing in the top ten in five others. He also won American AAA national dirt track championships for four consecutive years, from 1908 until 1911, and is credited with winning 24 American Champ car races. Born in Italy, his family emigrated to the US in 1893. He began racing bicycles with mixed success, but in 1904 he began racing motorcycles before switching to the automobile dirt track racing circuit in 1909, the year that the American Automobile Association established the national driving championship. In 1911 he won the first Milwaukee Mile Championship Car race. However, he is still remembered for the dramatic manner in which he lost the 1912 Indianapolis 500. After leading the race since the third lap, for some 196 of the 200 laps, his Mercedes cracked a piston and with only 2 laps remaining, he and his mechanic had to push the car across the finish line to take 11th place. At that time, only cars completing the full 200 laps received any prize money. In 1912 and again in 1914,he won the Elgin Trophy at Elgin, Illinois and in 1914 he scored what he called his greatest victory when he beat Barney Oldfield to capture the Vanderbilt Cup on the roads of Santa Monica, California. An intense competitor, he was one of the most popular racers with his fellow drivers and the fans because of his good sportsmanship, a quality he displayed on and off the track. In June 1917 he lost to Barney Oldfield in a series of 10 to 25 mile match races at the Milwaukee Mile. On February 12, 1919 at Daytona Beach, Florida, he drove a Packard to a world speed record of nearly 150 miles per hour over a measured mile. In 1921 he traveled with other Americans racers to Le Mans, France to compete in the French Grand Prix, finishing second to the Duesenberg driven by fellow American, Jimmy Murphy. In 1923 he established the DePalma Manufacturing Company in Detroit to build race cars and engines for automobiles and aircraft. In 1929 he won the Canadian national championship. He later competed in stock cars until he retired from racing in 1936. In his 27-year career, he competed in nearly 2,900 races in America and Europe, winning 2,557 of them. His total of 613 laps led stood as the all time Indianapolis 500 lap leader record until bested by Al Unser on the 200th lap of the 1987 Indianapolis 500. He was an honorary referee for the Indianapolis 500, the last time in 1954. He died from cancer at his home at the age of 73. In 1973 he posthumously inducted onto the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan. In 1991 he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame named to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. The following year he inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. He was the brother of race car driver John DePalma and the uncle of 1925 Indianapolis 500 winner Peter DePaolo.

Bio by: William Bjornstad


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 277
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Ralph DePalma (19 Dec 1882–31 Mar 1956), Find a Grave Memorial no. 277, citing Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, Los Angeles County, California, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .