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Bettenhausen, Tony (12 September 1926–12 May 1961), auto racing driver, was born Melvin Eugene Bettenhausen in Tinley Park, Illinois, the son of Christian H. Bettenhausen, a soybean farmer. His mother’s name is not known. Because he often defended himself against neighborhood bullies during his preteen years, the stubborn youngster was given the nickname “Tunney” after ...

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Chevrolet, Louis (25 December 1878–06 June 1941), mechanic, race car driver, and engine designer, was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, the son of Joseph Felicien Chevrolet, a clockmaker, and Angelina Marie (maiden name unknown). Louis Chevrolet’s family moved to Beaune, France, when he was six years old. From his father Louis acquired basic mechanical skills and an appreciation for the importance of precision in machine parts manufacture. While still teenagers, Louis and his two brothers, Arthur and Gaston, established a bicycle making shop. They used the brand name “Frontenac” for their bicycles, a name Louis later applied to automobiles he manufactured....

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De Palma, Ralph (1883–31 March 1956), race car driver, was born in Italy and raised in New York City. Little is known about his parents and early years. A high school graduate who also attended Stevens Institute in Hoboken, New Jersey, De Palma turned from racing bicycles to automobilies in 1908. Driving an Italian-built Fiat Cyclone, he immediately challenged the best American drivers of his era, including the flamboyant ...

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De Paolo, Peter (15 April 1898–27 November 1980), race car driver, was born in Roseland, New Jersey, the son of Tomasso De Paolo, a builder, and Giovinni De Palma, sister of the celebrated race car driver Ralph De Palma. De Palma’s fame encouraged De Paolo to pursue a career of his own in automobile racing, and the training he received as an airplane mechanic during World War I convinced his uncle to let him join the fabled De Palma racing team. De Paolo traveled to tracks all over the world as De Palma’s riding mechanic but became increasingly frustrated by his uncle’s refusal to run on Firestone tires because of an ongoing feud with another racer, ...

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Dale Earnhardt. Holding a dummy front page that proclaims him the 1980 NASCAR Grand National Champion, at the Los Angeles Times 500, Ontario Motor Speedway, 15 November 1980. Courtesy of AP Images.

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Earnhardt, Dale (29 April 1951–18 February 2001), race-car driver, race‐car driver, was born Ralph Dale Earnhardt in Kannapolis, North Carolina, the son of Ralph Earnhardt, an auto mechanic and stock‐car racer on the short tracks of the Carolinas in the 1950s and 1960s, and Martha Coleman. Dale dropped out of school in the ninth grade and went to work in a local textile mill. In 1968 he married Latane Key; they had a son the next year and divorced in 1970. Although his father discouraged him from following in his footsteps by racing, in 1970 Dale Earnhardt began to race stock cars at the local short tracks that proliferated in the Piedmont South....

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Milton, Tommy (1893–10 July 1962), race car driver and engineer, was born Thomas W. Milton in St. Paul, Minnesota, the son of a prosperous dairy farmer. At six feet tall and 175 pounds, Milton was a talented athlete, focusing on hockey, but an indifferent student. After only three semesters in high school in St. Paul, Milton left to pursue a newly found fascination with racing. Despite having full sight in only one eye, he soon became a champion motorcycle racer and helped to design the steel-soled boot that created the modern style of cycle racing. Increasingly intrigued by auto racing, Milton ran in his first sanctioned contest at the Minnesota Fairgrounds in 1914. He mixed his early racing career with appearances in auto daredevil shows until the famed driver ...

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Charles W. Carey , Jr.

Oldfield, Barney (29 January 1878–04 October 1946), auto racer, was born Berna Eli Oldfield in Wauseon, Ohio, the son of Henry Clay Oldfield and Sarah Yarnell, farmers. In 1889 his parents moved to Toledo, and in 1893 he dropped out of school and went to work. After quitting several mundane jobs, he took up the dangerous but exhilarating sport of bicycle racing in 1894 and competed professionally throughout the Midwest as the self-proclaimed “Bicycle Champion of Ohio.”...

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Shaw, Wilbur (31 October 1902–30 October 1954), race car driver and race track official, was born Warren Wilbur Shaw in Shelbyville, Indiana, the son of James Shaw, a police officer and sales representative, and Mary King. Wilbur dropped out of high school and apprenticed as a plumber with his stepfather in Indianapolis, where he had grown up. In 1926 he married Beatrice Patrick, who died while giving birth. Young Shaw’s passion for sports and speed led him to build and drive race cars. After some success on the small-time dirt tracks of the Midwest, Shaw returned to Indianapolis for the 1927 running of the 500-mile race....