Ralph Mulford

Ralph Mulford

28/12/1884 - 23/10/1973

Mulford may well have won the first Indianapolis 500, in 1911, but he didn't get credit for it. A great driver, he won the National Driving Championship in 1911 and 1918. he also hold the never to be broken record of the slowest Indy 500, taking 8 hours and 53 minutes to complete the distance in 1912 to finish 10th.

Known as the "Gumdrop Kid" because he ate gumdrops throughout his races, Mulford was one hell of a race driver. A superb engineer, he dreamed of building his own passenger car but was swindled out of more than $200,000 in one attempt to form a manufacturing company.

Ralph Mulford won the National Driving Championship twice, once in 1911 and again in 1918, and this was in spite of the fact that he refused to race on Sundays because of his religious beliefs.

Thirty-five times between 1915 and 1922, he raced on the dangerous banked board tracks, winning six times and finishing in the top five an amazing 21 times.

On July 4th, 1917 this kindly, gentle, religious man won one of his six board track victories on the 41 degree banks of the 1.25 mile board track at Omaha, Nebraska, in what many old timers said was the most dangerous automobile race ever run.

It was the last race on the badly deteriorating track, the boards broke in several places during the race puncturing tires and radiators. Splinters filled the air as drivers dodged many holes opening up due to broken boards.

But in spite of Mulford's success, and reputation, as race driver the Indianapolis Motor Speedway didn't treat him very kindly.

From 1911 through 1922 Ralph raced at the Speedway 10 times with a second place finish in 1911 being his best effort, but wait, there were many who didn't believe he finished second that first time out. Many believed Ralph Mulford was the winner of the first Indianapolis 500, not Ray Harroun.

Harroun and Mulford had started side by side, 28th and 29th, and had a ding-dong battle between themselves as they raced to the front of the pack. On about the 160th lap Harroun blew a tire about halfway down the back straight and had to limp around to the pits on the rim. Mulford swore up and down he lapped Ray during his slow trip to get a new tire.

To add to the confusion the timing wire strung across the track broke several times during the race and the cars had to be scored manually.

He was given the checkered flag before Ray Harroun and he took three extra laps as a precaution. When he finished the third lap, Harroun was in the winner's circle and Mulford's protests were largely ignored.

Mulford protested the finish but his protest fell on deaf ears and Ray Harroun won the first Indianapolis 500.

Came 1912 and Ralph was once again at the Speedway in his big six-cylinder Knox raring to go. For the first part of the race he was a serious contender but then clutch trouble set in and he had to stop several times, once for more than 30 minutes.

It was the race DePalama led for 196 laps before a broken piston sidelined him with Joe Dawson leading the last two, and infact the only 2 laps he ever led at the Speedway, to win the race.

The Speedway had a rule that to be paid any prize money the car had to complete the full 500 miles. The first nine finishers had completed the 500 miles but Ralph Mulford and his big old Knox were still circling the track in  tenth place.

He stopped at the pits and told the officials he was in 10th place, and the only car running, so just pay him the 1200.00 bucks and everyone could go home. The officials refused, he had to finish the required 500 miles.

So Ralph and his crew replaced the shocks, for a softer ride and, as the rumor goes, got some fried chicken and he and his riding mechanician fired up the Knox and finished their drive into the Speedway record book, more than two and a half hours after Dawson had won the race and more than one and a half hours after Howdy Wilcox finished in ninth place.

I might add this was much to the dismay of the race officials, some of who went home anyway, and the poor race fans trapped in the infield.

That is one record in the Speedway record book that will never be erased, as Ralph Mulford completed the 500 miles at an average speed of 56.28 mph, taking 8 hours and 53 minutes, the slowest a competitor ever ran the full 500 miles.

Mulford retired from racing on tracks after 1922 but for some years continued to compete in hill climbs. At one time he held the record for both the Mount Washington and Pikes Peak climbs.

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