Ralph De Palma’s Most Thrilling Moment on the Track, Circa 1912

In 1912, the New York Herald asked well-known racers of the day what they would describe as their “most thrilling moment on the track,” and the answers given really take you back to that time and place. One of the racers who gave a response to the newspaper was Ralph De Palma, the winner of the 1915 Indianapolis 500. Here is his story:

Ralph De Palma

De Palma racing a Mercedes in the 1914 Vanderbilt Cup race

Ralph Mulford and the Slowest Indy 500

There were many different automobile companies that incorporated the name “Cleveland” into their title. One of these was the Cleveland Automobile Company, maker of the Cleveland Six and the subject of this 1926 advertisement for a Daytona Beach demonstration, which features a famous racer of the day by the name of Ralph Mulford:

Mulford was named to the Auto Racing Hall of Fame (now the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame) in 1954 along with Eddie Rickenbacker, putting him in very good company. During the course of his career, he racked up American Automobile Association championships and wins in the famed Vanderbilt Cup and Elgin road races. He also participated in hill climbing events and set records “climbing to the clouds” at places like Pikes Peak and Mt. Washington.

Mulford took part in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911 as well as every Indy 500 race through the 1922 contest (there were no races in 1917 and 1918 due to World War I). He drove a Knox in the 1912 contest, and his finish that year makes for an interesting story. He was “tickled to death” with the six-cylinder Knox, but experienced engine trouble the day of the elimination trials in the form of a cracked cylinder. While the repaired motor was being reassembled in semidarkness, two springs were left out of the clutch. The slipping clutch made winning out of the question, but prize money was being paid to the top ten spots. Tenth place received $1,200, a not insignificant amount in 1912, but race officials were sticklers that Mulford had to actually finish the race in order to claim the prize.

By the time Mulford pulled into the pit for gasoline and an engine readjustment, the stands were empty and the guy in the timer stand was focusing his attention on a chicken sandwich. The starter, a man named Wagner, was the lone figure on the track and apparently could not get his hands on any chicken because he was reported to have said, “This is a farce. Mulford is taking his time and might be on the track a week. I want to eat.” Upon learning that he would need to drive through the gloom and finish the final 21 laps if he was going to get paid, Mulford and his mechanic, who was required to ride in the race car at that time, crawled back in with a box of food and some cigarettes. They alternated between munching sandwiches and smoking cancer sticks while they finished the race, and it took them a total of nearly nine hours to do so, two hours and 31 minutes behind the winner.

When Mulford passed away in 1973 at the age of 87, he was thought to be the last surviving driver of the inaugural Indy 500. He still holds the record for the slowest finish thanks to that 1912 race.


“Aftermath at Indianapolis.” Los Angeles Sunday Times, 2 Jun 1912, p. 2-VII.

“Chandler Makes New Record on Climb to the Clouds.” Monrovia Daily News, 1 Dec 1923, p. 2.

“‘Depalma Luck’ Loses Big Race.” Indianapolis Star, 31 May 1912, p. 13.

“Famous Auto Racer is Tampa Visitor.” Tampa Tribune, 27 Jun 1926, p. 2-D.

“Famous Race Driver to Pilot Stock Car at Daytona Beach.” Cocoa Tribune, 4 Jun 1926, p.

“Four Named to Auto Racing’s Hall of Fame.” Daily Argus Leader, 23 Jan 1954, p. 3.

“Officials Recheck Speedway Racers.” Indianapolis News, 31 May 1912, p. 21.

“Ralph K. Mulford, Former Auto Racer.” Asbury Park Evening Press, 26 Oct 1973, p. 19.

“Ralph Mulford and His New Six Cylinder Knox.” Portland Sunday Telegram, 26 May 1912, p. 8.