09 May 2011

The Greatest 33: No. 21 - Ralph DePalma

With 20 days remaining until the 100th Anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500, Drive Hard, Turn Left & SB Nation Indiana is starting its countdown of the Greatest 33, the ultimate Indianapolis 500 field. Fans can build their own field by clicking here. Today, Drive Hard, Turn Left & SB Nation Indiana looks at the first major star of the 500, Ralph DePalma.
Ralph DePalma won the Indianapolis 500 just once, but over his 10-year run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, gained international fame for his efforts on the track.  In fact, one could make the argument that DePalma had the infamous 'Andretti Luck' before Mario hit the Speedway grounds in 1965.
In his 10 runs at IMS, DePalma led 612 laps, including race-high amounts in 1912, 1915 and 1921.  However, DePalma would capture the checkered flag in just one of those runnings, the 1915 500.  It was not DePalma's most dominant 500 - he earned his fame three years earlier in the one of the iconic images of IMS - but he still led 132 laps in his Mercedes en route to becoming the fourth victor of the 500.
It was three years earlier, in the 1912 Indianapolis 500, that DePalma ensured that he would be part of 500 lore regardless of his future success.  The Italian dominated the race, taking the lead on Lap 3 and building a lead of over 11 minutes on Indianapolis native Joe Dawson.  However, DePalma's Mercedes began to lose power just three laps from the conclusion of the race.  Nursing the failing engine through Lap 198, DePalma and riding mechanic Rupert Jeffkins hopped out and began pushing the car.  
Passed by Dawson, DePalma was stopped scoring after Lap 198, as his car was dead.  As a result, he received no prize money, as only those who completed 200 laps received a financial reward.  However, DePalma still won in the hearts and minds of the public, including the 80,000 spectators who rose and cheered the duo as they attempted to complete the 500.  Images of DePalma and Jeffkins circulated worldwide, increasing the popularity of what would become "The Most Important Race in History."

The Greatest 33:
Row 7
21. Ralph DePalma
Row 8
22. Scott Dixon
23. Juan Pablo Montoya
24. Billy Arnold
Row 9
25. Bill Holland
26. Dan Wheldon
27. Ray Harroun
Row 10
28. Mark Donohue
29. Jacques Villeneuve
30. Danny Sullivan
Row 11
31. Tony Kanaan
32. Michael Andretti
33. Eddie Sachs

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