The first American to win a Grand Prix. He died in an accident during practice for the American Grand Prize in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1912.
The first American to win a Grand Prix, died in practice accident for the American Grand Prize race in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Born in 1890 to wealthy parents, he was a natural who as an 18-year old schoolboy bluffed his way into the 1908 Speed Trials at Daytona first as a mechanic then as a driver. Emanuele Cedrino - manager of Fiat's New York operations too the young man under his wing where he was jokingly known as Cedrino's millionaire mechanic. His mother horrified that her son might actually drive a racing car threatened legal action against the organizers if they allowed her son to drive but drive he did. In a Fiat he promptly beat the 1904 record of 92.30 mph set by William "Willie K" Vanderbilt. When Bruce-Brown's mother heard the news she momentarily got caught up in a wave of enthusiasm but the dread was always there that her son would die at the wheel of a racing car.
In 1908 he won the Shingle Hillclimb driving a 120hp Benz. In 1909 he beat Ralph DePalma's Fiat in the Dewar Trophy and DePalma would later remark that Bruce-Brown was "one of the greatest drivers who ever-gripped a steering wheel". By 1910 this 20-year old won international fame through his victory in the American Grand Prize at Savannah in a factory 120hp Benz by 1.42 seconds over Victor Hemery. Hemery was one of the best drivers in the world but even he was taken in by the charms of the young lad. He became the sensation of American motor sports, the rich kid taking on the best that the Europeans had to offer.
In 1911 Bruce-Brown drove for FIAT in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 and finished 3rd. He added another American Grand Prize later that year. He went to Europe in 1912 for the legendary A.C.F. Grand Prix at Dieppe. The French press called him the errant schoolboy in a man's world. Driving a 14.1 liter Fiat with DePalma and Wagner. The Grand Prix was the most prestigious race in the world. Held over 2 days the race totaled 956 miles. At the start Bruce-Brown leapt into the lead in front of a start-studded field. Setting the fastest lap he won the first day's race by over 2 minutes. On the second day Bruce-Brown struck a dog and ruptured his fuel tank. After lengthy repairs he was able to continue but only after adding more fuel which unfortunately was against the rules. He finished a disappointed though not classified third.
A product of New York society he was an amateur competing on equal terms with the best drivers in the world. On October 1, 1912 the fairy tale ended when David Bruce-Brown still only 22 died while practicing for his third American Grand Prize at Milwaukee. A tire on his Fiat had burst sending the car cartwheeling into a ditch. It all seemed so pointless as he was warned that his tires appeared worn and when out on the circuit he proceeded to race with his teammate,Teddy Tetzlaff in a display of youthful exuberance. What he might have accomplished during his lifetime can only be guessed. The racing world, especially the Americans were stunned. The legendary Louis Wagner declared him to be the greatest road racer he had ever seen.