One of the greatest, and nice with it—that was Ralph De Palma. He won well over 2,500 of his 3,000 or so races and other speed events, and was a superstar who was much liked for his sunny disposition and sportsmanship.
That was never more clearly the case than when he led the 1912 Indianapolis 500 in his Mercedes Grey Ghost for an incredible 197 laps. But on the 198th a con rod went, so the car coughed and spluttered on three of its four cylinders as it ground to a halt. Meanwhile, Joe Dawson and Don Herr, the eventual winners in their American-built National, snatched the lead from de Palma, whose car shuddered and stopped before it could complete the lap. So the Italian—de Palma didn’t become an American citizen until 1920—and his riding mechanic, Australian Rupert Jeffkins, got out and pushed, Ralph with one hand on the big car’s steering wheel the other on the bulkhead and Jeffkins pushing with all his might at the back. They crossed the line OK to complete 198 laps, but Indy rules stated that the car had to compete under its own steam and so they were relegated to a DNF.
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