DePalma Injury & Comeback 1909/1910

The brief article in attachment DePalma101009 was originally published in the October 10, 1909, Indianapolis Star. It concerns the serious accident to champion driver Ralph DePalma and his Fiat Cyclone after a tire burst during a race on the dirt track at Danbury, Connecticut. DePalma had been reportedly trailing two other drivers, Brown, in a Fiat and Wagner in a Columbia. It is hard to know exactly who these other men were given that only their last names are provided.
DePalma was reportedly thrown some twenty feet from his car which crashed through a fence and rolled over. The driver landed in a marshy area and was knocked unconscious. He reportedly suffered a fractured thigh and almost certainly a concussion. Just a month earlier the Italian-born driver earned three world records for one-mile race tracks. His car was reported to be the same racer that Emanuel Cedrino drove to his death in 1908.
Months later the Indianapolis News published an article on February 5, 1910 (attachment DePalmaNews020510 that discussed DePalma's comeback from his injuries. The headline reads, "DePalma, On Crutches, Takes Up Racing Again." This focuses on this enthusiasm for racing at the new, one-mile wood plank track outside Los Angeles at Playa Del Rey on April 8. It was to be his second comeback race after competing in the Mardi Gras speed festival at the New Orleans Fairgrounds dirt oval. He is noted as a driver who excelled on ovals. DePalma is quoted.
"I am convinced that the new board saucer will prove one of the best racing propositions yet tried. Driving on a track has always appealed to me more strongly than road racing, and a wooden dish with the dangers of skidding, blinding dust, and thrown tires eliminated 'listens good,' as they say in the new theater drama. The course, being a perfect circle one mile in circumference, rather than oval, I believe will be a decided advantage for making great speed. Cars can whirl at nearly constant speed, having no bad turns to negotiate. Having raced motorcycles on the Springfield (Mass.) board track, which is only one-third the size of the Southern California one, has convinced me of this. Perhaps very few people have stopped to consider that on a mile banked track, which is an absolute circle, pilots will be able to drive under conditions not greatly different from straightaway going. Figuring it out mathematically, I believe you will find that a driver has to deviate from a straight line only one inch every sixty-four feet. Inasmuch as the curve is constant, and the steering wheel must be set to vary only slightly when passing other cars, a driver will be able to devote more attention to manipulation of his motor rather than steering wheel."
DePalma goes on to discuss his repairs of the Cyclone racer and its likely success at Playa Del Rey.
"I am rebuilding the 'Cyclone,' which has proved its class on dirt tracks, although it has never been pushed to its limit. In my estimation, the twenty-degree banking on the new course will be sufficient to counteract centrifugal force and that the little car can be let out to its capacity."
Two days later, on February 7, 1910, the Indianapolis News (attachment DePalmaNews020710) we learn that DePalma again suffered tire failure that forced him to retire from short match races against archrival Barney Oldfield in his first time back in competition at New Orleans. They were first pitted against each other in a 10-mile match race, Oldfield in a Benz and DePalma in the Fiat. It is unclear whether the Benz was the car Oldfield used in 1909 or the new Blitzen Benz he acquired at about the time the article was published.
Regardless, DePalma had a tire let go during the third lap and Oldfield won by default. The next event was a handicap as Oldfield drove a Knox and was given a 28-second headstart. They were competing for a $250 prize. DePalma ran strong but by mile eight he had another tire mounted on the same front wheel blow.
Another contest deemed by the report as more entertaining was another 10-mile handicap with Oldfield, his teammate Ben Kerscher, and DePalma entered. Kerscher won, just edging Oldfield.
This article reports that the New Orleans meet had a second day which, despite recording no records or accidents, was deemed "intensely interesting," due to good competition. Results summaries are provided.

  • Five-Mile Race - Klaw & Erlanger Trophy for amateurs with stock chassis cars: Fred Shaw (Knox, 15-second handicap); C.S. Bragg (Fiat, scratch); Jack Darey (Stoddard-Dayton, 45 seconds). Total time: 6:05. Note, too, that the driver named Bragg was almost certainly the rising star "rookie" that year, Caleb Bragg, a wealthy young man who drove his own car.
  • Ten-Mile Race - Special World's Championship: Oldfield (Benz), DePalma (Fiat) withdrew. Time: 9:26.
  • Five-Mile Race - New Orleans Championship: M.P. Irwin, Thomas, won on a forfeit for lack of starters.
  • Ten-Mile Race - Free-for-all: Kerschner (Darracq, 15 seconds); Oldfield (Knox, 32 seconds); DePalma (scratch). Total time - 9:32.
  • Ten-Mile Special Handicap: Oldfield (Knox, 28 seconds); DePalma (Fiat). Time: 9:47.

DePalma remains a recognizable name, especially to Indianapolis 500 fans and true auto racing historians. Below are links to additional information about this great driver and champion found elsewhere on First Super Speedway.

DePalma101009.pdf291.16 KB
DePalmaNews020510.pdf633.32 KB
DePalmaNews020710.pdf642.85 KB