Rudolph "Rudi" Caracciola was considered one of the greatest of Grand Prix
drivers, winning more than 225 races during his career of 30 years, and claiming three
European Driving Championships, the equivalent of today's Formula 1 World Drivers
A native of Remagen, Germany,
Caracciola discovered a love for automobiles at an early age, and became an apprentice at
the Farnir auto works in Dresden. After World War I, he became a salesman for Farnir, and
began racing their cars to promote sales. He fell in love with speed, and tried to gain
the attention of the factory-backed teams at Mercedes-Benz and elsewhere. He won his first
race in 1923 in a 4-cylinder car at Berlin Stadium.
Caracciola began driving for Mercedes in some of
their less significant races, but in 1926 he got his big break. With the factory team in
Spain for an important race, there was no one to enter the initial German Grand Prix. He
talked Mercedes into loaning him a car, and went on to win in a driving rain. He joined
the factory team soon after After winning several races over the next four years,
Caracciola was out of a job when the Depression forced Mercedes to suspend their racing
operation. He bought his own car with the last of his savings, and won the Irish Grand
In 1931, he became the first foreigner to win
Italy's 1,000-mile Mille Miglia. The next year, he won ten races for Alfa Romeo, while his
teammate Tazio Nuvolari won six. In 1933, he shattered his thigh bone in a crash at the
first event of the year at Monaco, and missed the entire year
In 1935, back with Mercedes, he won his first
European tide, beating a young Auto Union driver named Bernd Rosemeyer. In the next two
years, Caracciola and Rosemeyer swapped European championships, with Rudi prevailing again
in 1937. His friendship ended tragically when the two were chasing world speed records in
1938 on the Autobahn, and Rosemeyer's car crashed and exploded. Caracciola went on to win
his third championship, but something was gone from his driving.
Caracciola again won the German GP but he fled to Switzerland and retired when Hitler
tried to "honor" him with a Nazi title. He did not race again until 1946, when
he entered the Indy 500, but was severely injured in a crash while trying to qualify.
After that he raced on a limited basis, and also did high-speed testing for Mercedes. He
raced for the last time in a sports car race at Berne, when his career was ended by
another crash. He died of cancer in Kassell, Germany, in 1959.
Rudolph Caracciola, Inducted 1998
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