Wolfgang Alexander Albert Eduard Maximilian Reichsgraf Berghe von Trips was born in Kerpen-Horrem near Cologne in Germany. Nicknamed Wölfchen (little wolf) by his parents, the dashing young German Count, descended from a 700 year old dynasty of knights, was raised in a castle on the family estates near Cologne.
In 1957 he drove in three GPs for Ferrari. A sixth in Argentina was followed by a retirement in Monaco when his engine failed ten laps from the finish.
Later in the year he drove in the Italian Grand Prix finishing on the podium in third place behind Moss and Fangio. He also had a number of good results in sports cars.
He switched to Porsche in the F2 class in the first Grand Prix of 1959 at Monaco he spun on the incline to Casino. Allison's Ferrari crashed into him as he spun followed by the Lotus of Bruce Halford. Allison and his Ferrari suffered the least damage while von Trips sustained a gashed face and Halford had a cut to his arm. All three retired. He was withdrawn from the German Grand Prix after Behra's accident and at the end of the season returned to Ferrari for the American Grand Prix, finishing 6th with a Ferrari Dino 246.
In sports cars he took the Porsche to third at Sebring as well as winning the Berlin Grand Prix and finishing second in the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood ahead of Brooks' Ferrari.
Returning to Ferrari in 1960, he was a consistent top ten finisher with a best result of fourth in Portugal. He ended the season racing a Scuderia Centro Sud Cooper T51-Maserati in the USA. He also won the non-championship races at Syracuse and Solitude for Ferrari and finished second in the F2 German GP for Porsche.
Then in 1961 he hit top form. In sports cars he won the Targa Florio with Gendebien and driving the works 'shark nose' Ferrari 156 he finished fourth in Monaco followed by a dominant win in Holland. After a second in Belgium and a retirement in France, he then won the British Grand Prix. After another podium in Germany, finishing second, he went into the Italian GP leading the World Championship and only needing a third to secure the title.
He put the Ferrari on pole but was not the quickest off the line. On the second lap he was under pressure from Jim Clark's Lotus. However when Clark pulled out of his slipstream to attempt a pass, von Trips moved over as well. His Ferrari clipped the front wheel of Jim Clark's Lotus sending Taffy into the air. He crashed into a retaining fence behind which spectators were tightly packed. von Trips was thrown out of the car landing back on the circuit. Tragically he died along with 14 spectators.
It was rumored that von Trips was scheduled to fly to the USA from Düsseldorf with a friend later on the day he died. The plane went down over Ireland with the loss of all onboard. A plane did crash that day on a flight from Shannon to Gander in Canada but since it took off at 3.55 AM there's no way Van Tripps could have ever made the flight. As an aside, the Douglas DC-6B Registration N90773 had been involved in a hijack a few years earlier when it was being run by American Airlines. On July 6th 1954, five minutes prior to takeoff from Cleveland, Ohio, the hijacker, Raymond A. Kuchenmeister, burst into the cockpit and demanded to be taken to Cuba where upon the captain, William F. Bonnell, shot him twice! Kuchenmeister died an hour later at a local hospital.
Von Trips had been involved in the promotion of karting in Germany and in 1961 he opened a kart track in Kerpen, Germany which was later leased by Rolf Schumacher, whose sons Michael and Ralph took their first steps on the motor racing ladder there.