The nephew of legendary racer Ralph DePalma, DePaolo not only beat his uncle in the 1925 Indianapolis 500, but won the race by becoming the first man to exceed the 100mph mark.
Peter DePaolo was the first man to exceed the 100 mph mark at the Indianapolis 500 by winning the 1925 classic with an average speed of 101.27 mph. DePaolo’s uncle, Ralph DePalma, was also competing in this race. Though DePalma won only one Indy 500 once during his career, he was the force that inspired his nephew Peter to take up racing.
In 1920, DePaolo began working as a driving mechanic for his uncle. He was soon racing himself, and though he crashed the first six cars he drove, he was invited to join the Duesenberg Team in 1924. The next year, he would be the first man to break 100 mph.
It would probably come as a surprise to fans of the Golden Age of Motor Racing that Peter De Paolo didn’t consider his 1925 Indy win his greatest race. That year, he competed against Harry Miller, who dazzled the public with a dramatic new front-drive Miller Junior Eight. Fred and Augie Duesenberg, with whom DePaolo had raced, were just as certain to put up a good fight, having fought off the Miller onslaught to win Indy honors the year before. While some would point to the lackluster balance of Duesenberg’s 1924 season, others would hasten to note that DePaolo, mentored by his uncle, had clocked an auspicious 135-mph record on the Culver City boards that April. He did not disappoint.
DePaolo went on to race for nine more years, until an accident in Spain left him in a coma for more than a week. He gave up racing himself, but helped boost Kelly Petrillo to a win at the 1935 Indy 500 as car owner and manager. He was also Director of Industrial Relations at Michigan International Speedway during the late 1960s.
Peter DePaolo and Ralph DePalma were simultaneously elected to the Auto Racing Hall of Fame, and had the honor of being the first inductees.
DePaolo died on November 26, 1980 and was elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in December of 1980.