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Ralph de Palma

Full Name:
Raffaele de Palma
19th December 1882
Troia, Puglia (I)
31st March 1956 (Aged 73)
Pasadena, California
Most recent race (in database):

Ralph de Palma is reputed to have won over 2,000 races during his career – 24 of which were in what is now the IndyCar Series. However, it was for a race he did not win that he is most famous. He dominated the 1912 Indianapolis 500, taking the lead on lap three and establishing a commanding lead over the next 196 laps until a con rod fractured. With a considerable advantage, de Palma and riding mechanic Rupert Jeffkins pushed the heavy car toward the finish line but his efforts were in vain. That heroic refusal to admit defeat and his sporting demeanour once the race was over endeared de Palma to the nation.

Early racing success

Ten years old when his family immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, Ralph de Palma’s interest in racing was sparked by watching George Heath win the 1904 W.K.Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island. He began racing an Allen-Kingston in 1907 with little initial success. However, victory at Readville in Massachusetts a year later established a new contender, especially as he beat the famed Barney Oldfield.

Furthermore, his works Fiat led the opening laps of the inaugural American Grand Prize in 1908. He set the race’s fastest lap as he mixed it with Europe’s stars before punctures and mechanical gremlins delayed him. Success with the Fiat continued into 1909 when de Palma won the AAA-sanctioned road race at Riverhead, New York. He switched to a Simplex to finish sixth in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 and dominated the 1912 American season with a Mercedes. He won road races at Santa Monica, Elgin and the Vanderbilt Cup at Milwaukee but endured that ill-fortune at Indianapolis. He also travelled to Europe that year to race a works Fiat S74 in the French Grand Prix and ran as high as fourth before being disqualified after working on the car away from the pits.

De Palma was Spencer Wishart’s relief driver in the second placed Mercer in the 1913 Indy 500, won at Elgin for the third successive season and added another Vanderbilt Cup success at Santa Monica in 1914. He also retired a Vauxhall from that year’s French GP and returned to America having acquired the Mercedes that had finished second in that race.

Winner of the Indianapolis 500

He led at Indy again in 1915 before his car developed a problem during the closing stages. This time, de Palma was able to coax his Mercedes over the line to win the Indianapolis 500.

His Packard won every Indycar race he entered in 1918 and set a new speed record that winter – averaging 149.87mph on the sands at Daytona Beach. Now an American citizen, de Palma’s Ballot started the 1920 and 1921 Indianapolis 500s from pole position but was out of luck on raceday.

He travelled to Europe to finish second in the 1921 French GP when his Ballot 2L was beaten by Jimmy Murphy’s Duesenberg in one of the great races in GP history. De Palma continued racing into the next decade, albeit with decreasing frequency and success until he retired in 1933 – later working for Mobil Oil as a consultant.

By then, de Palma had been declared as the first two-time National Champion after the AAA retrospectively recognised his exploits in 1912 and 1914 some decades later.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1933 AAA National Championship
Ralph de Palma
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
20th 20
1930 AAA National Championship 1 0 0 0
0% win rate
1929 AAA National Championship
Aiden Sampson II
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
1928 AAA National Championship 1 0 0 0
0% win rate
1925 AAA National Championship
Ralph de Palma
Earl Cooper
3 1 0 0
0% win rate
19th 45
1924 AAA National Championship 1 0 0 0
0% win rate
1923 AAA National Championship
Packard Motor Co
Duesenberg Bros
5 0 1 0
0% win rate
11th 190
1922 AAA National Championship
Ralph de Palma
5 0 0 0
0% win rate
12th 150
1921 AAA National Championship
Ralph de Palma
10 1 3 3
30% win rate
8th 355
1920 AAA National Championship
Ralph de Palma
8 1 2 1
13% win rate
4th 605
1919 AAA National Championship
Packard Motor Co
5 0 2 1
20% win rate
1918 AAA National Championship 6 0 6 6
100% win rate
1917 AAA National Championship 6 2 3 1
17% win rate
1916 AAA National Championship 8 2 3 2
25% win rate
4th 1800
1915 AAA National Championship
EC Patterson
11 1 3 2
19% win rate
1914 AAA National Championship
EC Patterson
8 0 3 3
38% win rate
1st 2045
1913 AAA National Championship
Mercer Automobile Co
5 0 2 1
20% win rate
1912 AAA National Championship
Ralph de Palma
EJ Schroeder
5 1 4 4
80% win rate
1st 2000
1911 AAA National Championship
Ralph de Palma
Simplex Automobile Co
7 0 3 0
0% win rate
1910 AAA National Championship 3 0 1 0
0% win rate
1909 AAA National Championship 3 0 2 1
34% win rate