17/8/1884 - 2/9/1924
Dario Resta won the Indy 500, the Vanderbilt Cup twice and the 1916 United States National Driving Championship. Raised in England he was killed in a crash at Brooklands when a tire blew while trying for a new land speed record. Dario Resta died 98 years ago, he was 40
Dario Dolly Resta was born in Livorno,Tuscany, Italy, but was raised in England from the age of two. He tried roller-skating and boxing before he began racing. Wealthy and well-bred, he also had an agency in London which aquired motor cars for the rich and famous.
On July 6, 1907, he took part in the Montagu Cup, part of the first race meeting to be held at Brooklands. With a prize of £1400 he drove F.R. Fry’s 1906 Mercedes GP car. He took the lead two laps from the finish but approaching the Fork for the last time he saw a marshal waving him round again. Ignoring his own lap counting and the BARC semaphore signal, he put in another lap. J.E. Hutton won the race in his Mercedes ahead of Japanese Prince Okura in a Fiat with Resta finally clasified third. He protested but officials disallowed it.
He won his first race at the Bank Holiday meeting on the 5th August. Driving a 1906 120 hp GP Mercedes he took the honours in the Prix De La France at Brooklands.
He also took a number of sprint and endurance records, setting the record for the half-mile at 95.7 mph. He raced in the 1913 French Grand Prix and raced in other European Grand Prix driving Sunbeams.
In early 1915 he was brought to San Francisco in the United States by Alphonse Kaufman, Peugeot's importer, to drive Kaufman's Peugeot in a couple of long distance races to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. The First World War had halted racing in Europe and Peugeot were keen for the publicity that winning would bring.
In February he won the 402 mile International Grand Prix at San Francisco followed by a victory in the 303 mile Vanderbilt Cup. He skipped the next three races to prepare for the Indy 500. Unintimidated by the Brickyard, as he was used to Brooklands which was a quicker track. In teh race he and de Palma were neck and neck through the first 100 miles, breaking all previous records. It was the same through the second 100 miles. Then de Palma opened up a 40 second lead but Resta was not done, he halved that margin but then a tire blew out and he clipped the wall. He pitted for repairs rejoining to find over 4 inches of play in the steering! Undeterred he kept the pressure on de Palma who could not afford to ease up and with five miles to go a connecting rod broke in his Mercedes' engine. Haemorrhaging oil and with memories of the 1912 episode when he tried to push the car over the line, he held on to win, but only just.
Resta then drove his blue Peugeot to victory in the inaugural 500 mile race on the board track at the Chicago Speedway on June 26, 1915. The race received eighteen pages of coverage in the July 1, 1915, issue of Motor Age magazine.
In 1916 he won the United States National Driving Championship and once again won the Vanderbilt Cup. He then went on to win the Indianapolis 500, the Chicago 300, the Minneapolis 150 and the Omaha 150 races.
As for Peugeot's publicity, it didn't happen. What did happen was their design was copied by the Indianapolis management and called the Premier. One of these copies won the race in 1919. The double overhead camshaft engine was also copied by Harry Miller when he designed his Miller-Offenhausers.
He raced very little after 1916. America entered the First World War and races were few and far between. In September 1917, he took part in a race at Sheepshead Bay driving a Frontenac but retired and in 1918 he drove a Peugeot in two lightly supported races in Chicago and Sheepshead Bay.
During this time Resta concentrated on his business. He had moved his family to Bakersfield, California and started a small racetrack at Buttonwillow, 28 miles northwest of Bakersfield. The track is still in use and has recently been updated.
In 1919 he was due to race in the first Indianapolis 500 of the post-war era. Unfortunately his Sunbeam had engine trouble and he didn't get to race. He raced a Sunbeam at Sheepshead Bay and a Peugeot at Tacoma with no success.
He was away from raciing in 1920 and though he due to race a Sunbeam in the 1921 Grand Prix de l'ACF at Le Mans, the car was not ready in time.
He made a comeback in 1923, now at the age of 39, and made another attempt at Indy, putting his Packard on the outside of the front row in qualifying. However in the race he retired after 225 miles. In Europe that year, Resta finished 3rd in the Penya Rhin Grand Prix and won the voiturette class at the Spanish Grand Prix at Villafranca, driving a Talbot.
He drove for Sunbeam again in 1924 with Henry Segrave and Kelim Lee Guinness. In May he won the hillclimbs at Aston Hill and South Harting with a Sunbeam GP. He was second in Swiss Voiturette Grand Prix driving a Talbot 70 behind KLG in a similar car. Next came the Grand Prix de l'ACF but Resta was not on form and finished well down the field.
Sadly he was killed on September 2nd when he crashed at Brooklands trying to set a new International Class E (2-litre) world speed record. The crash happened on his fourth lap when a security belt broke puncturing a tyre. The car went backwards through a fence and caught fire. Bill Perkins, his riding mechanic, sustained severe injuries but Resta was less fortunate and did not survive.