Vaccarella was an Italian racing driver who combined his racing with being a school teacher. After class he would drive a few laps of the Piccolo Madonie and literally knew every inch of the 44 mile course of the Targa Florio. Almost deified by the local fans due to his superb drives in the race which he won three times.
Born in Palermo, Sicily, Vaccarella was a school teacher, though that might conjure the wrong impression. He had studied Law at University but never actually practiced law and, when his father died in 1956, he and his sister Ada founded a private school, the Institute Alfredo Oriani. Where, longside his work at the school, Nino started competing in 1957 driving his father’s Fiat 1100 in a hillclimb at Passo di Rigano-Bellolampo, finishing fifth in class. He then switched to a Lancia Aurelia B20 and also started racing on circuits.
In 1959 with a Maserati 200SI he won nearly all the races he entered. He also made his debut in the Targa Florio that year bring out the locals in their hundreds of thousands to watch. He finished a creditable 10th with Giuseppe Allota in a Maserati A6GCS.
His drive earned him a place in the Camoradi team for the 1960 Tagra Florio. Almost unbelievably Vaccarella took the lead from the works teams of Porsche, Ferrari and Marerati on lap 5. On the next lap he had increased his advantage over second place and, with the fastest lap, his lead was now over three minutes. However on the seventh lap a stone punctured the fuel tank and he was out despite the locals trying to supply him with bottles of petrol!
His Formula 1 career started brightly in 1961 with Count Giovanni Volpi's Scuderia Serenissima Cooper-Maserati T51 with a third in the Coppa Italia at Vallelunga. In the Italian GP he retired his de Tomaso-Alfa Romeo with engine problems
In 1962 at the German GP he finished fifteenth in a Porsche 718 and ninth with a Lotus-Climax at the Italian GP. In non championship races, he failed to qualify for the Brussels GP, retired from the International Trophy at Silverstone and the Mediterranean GP at Pergusa, but did finish sixth place at Pau.
His final F1 drive came in 1965 in Italy driving works Ferrari 158. He had a good race until he broke a valve though he was classified as a finisher in 12th, having completed more than 51 laps. But that was as far as his F1 carrer went.
A top sports car driver from 1962 to 1975, he was offered a works drive with Ferrari in 1963 though it was a troubled year. He was banned from starting the Targa Florio after his licence was suspended following a road accident and a crash at the Nürburgring and the resultant broken arm kept him out for the rest of the season.
1964 arrived with Nino in a works Ferrari 275 P2 which after a second at Sebring, he won Le Mans with Guichet and the Nürburgring 1000 Km with Scarfiotti and the Coppa Intereuropa race in a 250LM.
In 1965 he finally won the Targa Florio, paired with Lorenzo Bandini, at an average speed of 63.7 mph in a Ferrari 275P2. Paired with Bandini again he finished fourth in the Nurburgring 1000km with a Ferrari Dino 166P and at Le Mans, racing with with Pedro Rodriguez in the NART Ferrari 365 P2, he finished seventh.
Frustration followed in 1966 with a number of retirements. A fifth at Sebring in a Scuderia Brescia Corse Ford GT40 was about all he had to show for the year. At the Targa Florio with Bandini, they had lead most of the race but an off track excursion resulted in another retirement.
Nino also won and the 1970 Sebring 12 Hours with Andretti and Giunti. He also scored many other placings and was a very reliable practitioner, rarely damaging the car and enjoying a remarkable ratio of finishes in this punishing category.
His second victory at the Targa Florio came in 1971 driving an Alfa Romeo T33/3 with Toine Hezemans, crossing the finish line over a minute ahead of Andrea de Adamich and Gijs van Lennep in a similar Alfa Romeo T33/3
He then came out of retirement in 1975 to record his third triumph, though this time the Alfa T33 T12 he shared with Merzario was pitted against poor opposition.
By then, Vaccarella had a son, Giovanni, and opted for retirement in 1997 though he continued attending Historic events, including Goodwood and returned to the Targa for 2016’s 110th Anniversary event.
In honour of his achievements, he was awarded the Knight of the Republic, the Silver Star for Sporting Merit of the Italian Olympic Committee and a diploma from the International Olympic Committee.
He continued at the school for some time before finally closing it.