Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: BlackJack’sBriefs
1882… remembered for…
Irish author Oscar Wilde arrived in the United States declaring: ‘I have nothing to declare but my genius.’; Queen Victoria failed to be assassinated; Robert Koch discovered the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis; outlaw Jesse James was shot in the back of the head and killed by Robert Ford; a cyclone in the Arabian Sea caused flooding in Bombay harbor, leaving about 100,000 dead; The Married Women’s Property Act 1882 received Royal assent in Britain, enabling women to buy, own and sell property and to keep their own earnings; Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture debuted in Moscow; Thomas Edison flipped the switch to the first commercial electrical power plant in history, lighting one square mile of lower Manhattan…
. . . and… What . . . Well, before I plunge into this week’s offering let me say the subject of this post has to remain my personal supposition… in that, after accidentally coming across this ‘story’, and putting two and two together, I have been totally unable to find any proof of my assumption – that the answer is four…
Let me start with the the present day in F1 – where a young Scot of Italian ancestry, Paul di Resta, is driving his third season for Force India, after a hesitant start in the sport during 2009-10. So much we all know. Most of us will also know that Paul’s older cousin, Dario Franchitti who, after three very successful years in American ChampCars, had an even more hesitant entry to F1 in 2000, where his time was wasted by Jaguar, and he quickly returned to the States… where he continues to enjoy a successful career in the IndyCar series, winning the Indy-500 three times, and the IndyCar championship for four consecutive years, as well as taking a year out to try NASCAR…
So far so good… Both drivers were born near Edinbrough of Scottish parents descended from Italian immigrants who arrived at the end of the 19th-C. Neither their parents nor grandparents seem to have been famous but – and this is where the story really starts (©BBC The Goon Show c.1950’s) – ‘On This Day’ in 1882 was born in Italy (in Faenza, where Scuderia Minardi, and Toro Rosso subsequently resided) one, Dario Raoul Resta (later nicknamed, Dolly) who, at the age of two, was brought to England, and then Scotland, by his parents… and who, in 1907, began a motor-racing career by competing for the Montague Cup, in the first ever event at the newly built, and now legendary, Brooklands track – in the 20’s and 30’s the envy of the world, but later commandeered, filched, and ultimately stolen by the British government during WWII…
Dario Resta’s Mercedes was leading for the final two laps but he failed to change to the finishing straight for the chequered flag, carried on for an extra lap… and still finished third. Brooklands was a sort of ‘banked-oval’ and had a flat straight (and the pits) within the oval whence cars both started and finished. Dario Resta put in a protest but officials didn’t want to know. Nevertheless the following month, in the same Mercedes, he claimed his first win, in the Brooklands held, Prix de la France.
In 1908, at the Easter meeting, Dario Resta was leading Frank Newton’s Napier but, as Newton began to pass he slipped down the banking and the two cars interlocked and were both damaged – Napier went slowly on to win, while Dario Resta limped into second. After the race Resta put in a protest but, as in 1907, it failed.
In July, Dario Resta took part in the third ACF Grand Prix. This race, a kind of World Championship of its era, took place in Dieppe. Dario Resta, at the wheel of an Austin, finished 19th, four minutes behind Moore Brabazon’s Austin and two hours behind the winner, Christian Lautenschlager in a Mercedes.
According to Taso Mathieson, (Grand Prix Racing 1906-1914) Dario Resta ‘…was born to drive, but lacking in road experience. He collided with a horse and cart, ending up in a ditch with the car on top of him. He and his mechanic . . . became involved in an altercation with some locals who had come to the assistance of the driver of the cart. Finally, Resta was dragged off to prison.’
Back in England Dario Resta won the 2nd Montague Cup, in his usual Mercedes, but later races garnered little success, including the first Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man… but there were two French Hillmans in this race, driven by Louis Coatalen and Kenelm Lee Guinness, the KLG spark plugs founder, and Coatalen (also an inspired engineer) was subsequently recruited by Sunbeam (presumably without the bother of ‘gardening-leave’…) and, after becoming chief designer, was apparently instrumental in having Dario Resta join Sunbeam, in 1912, when some success returned – in the two-day ACF Grand Prix in Dieppe. At the end of the first day Resta was running third, and eventually finished fourth.
Later that year Dario Resta helped Sunbeam to establish new speed records over 100 miles (80.34mph), 1,000 miles (76.1mph) and the Five hours. The following year Dario Resta managed sixth place in the 900km ACF GP in Amiens, and he also drove with Jean Chassagne and Kenelm Lee Guinness for twelve hours, and established new 200 miles, 300 miles and 400 miles world records…
Meanwhile Sunbeam had been closely examining the ultra successful, and revolutionary 1913 Peugeot L76 – the first car in the world with a hemi-head engine, double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. This 7.6- litre engine, inspired both Miller and Offenhauser in the USA, as well as Sunbeam who prepared a new car for the 1914 season.
At the Brooklands meeting, Dario Resta drove the aero-engined Sunbeam V12 to second place but in the Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man ‘KLG’ won with a Sunbeam, as Resta retired after a single lap. However, in the ACF Grand Prix (the last grande epreuve for four or five years…), south of Lyon, on a 37km circuit between the towns of Brignais, Givors and Rive-de-Gier, Dario Resta finished fifth, after more than eight hours of racing, just 21mins behind Lautenschlager, who won, for Mercedes and, as it turned out, for Germany… Peugeot failed, for France… Resta later managed to win two more events before Europe went crazy for four years…
With little racing in Europe in 1914 Dario Resta went to America on behalf of Sunbeam… and met the local Peugeot importer… who offered him a Peugeot EX3, for 1915. Perhaps being Italian at heart, Dario Resta knew this was an offer he could not refuse – and so the legend was born.
In February, 1915, Dario Resta won the 400 mile wet American Grand Prize on a seafront track in the San Francisco (Santa Monica ?) area after leading for all but ten laps… and, a week later, on the same track, won the inaugural, 300 mile, Vanderbilt Cup, and led for all but the first twenty laps.
From there the teams moved on to Indianapolis, for the also prestigious ‘500’… where the drivers had to qualify for grid positions – instead of picking numbers out of a hat… Dario Resta lined up in third place at 98.47 mph. The race was likened to the final ACF Grand Prix – Mercedes v Peugeot – Germany v France – but two Italians dominated the race, with Dario Resta finishing second (for Peugeot) to Ralph de Palma (for Mercedes…). Dario Resta had suffered a puncture, causing an extra pit-stop… while the Mercedes lost a con-rod, but still managed to stagger across the line.
However, Dario Resta was back in the winner’s circle at the next race, the inaugural event at the Chicago Speedway, on wood boards, establishing a new 500-mile record of 97.58 mph. Later Dario Resta returned to Chicago to win the 100-mile Challenge Cup, and created another record, finishing at 101.86 mph – the first 100- mile race to be completed in under one hour… causing a local newspaper to run the headline: Who better than Resta?
1915 was a real success for Dario Resta, winning five out of nine races and leading 39% of the total distance of these nine races, earning him $39,900 of prize money.
There was no official championship in 1915 but Motor Age magazine ran an unofficial ‘road-racing’ championship and named Earl Cooper champion with Dario Resta second. This was due to his two victories in San Francisco at the beginning of the year which were the only two road races in which Resta took part – the seven other races were on board tracks, a dirt oval (Sioux City), cement (Minneapolis) and a brick oval (Indy). The “champion” took part in five road races and won twice.
After his first two wins Dario Resta upset the American drivers by trying to explain why they were failing to win. The Lima Daily News reported: “The American driver is too averse to gear shifting to do really effective work. After he once has his car in high, he lets it stay there, instead of helping it out once in a while by slipping into third or second.” When Resta retired from the subsequent Sioux 300 The Indianapolis Sunday Star suggested: Resta was afraid of the dirt track.
A very short clip of Dario Resta winning the 1915 Vanderbilt Cup.
Dario Resta’s young wife was proud of her husband’s achievements but hated his occupation… Her brother had been killed a year earlier, although this had not stopped Mary eloping with Dario only months afterwards. In a March, 1915 edition of The Wisconsin [?] State Journal: “I aged ten years during the four hours my husband was speeding to victory – a fearful vigil! His laurels have left a scar upon my heart.” Instead of watching, Mary had cowered in terror.
“I’ll be grey-haired in a short time unless Dario gives up. In my pride [at his victory] I can almost forget the anguish. But at the next contest it will be just the same, a frenzy of suspense. A woman’s love is a queer thing: it answers to pride in a husband’s daring and mastery, and at the same time it cowers in agony for his safety. The two tug mightily at a woman’s heart. And none know this mingled thrill and distress better than the auto racer’s wife.”
1916 established the first official AAA Championship, the first race being won by Eddie Rickenbacker, a 26-year old driver who was soon to become an aviation ace during World War I, was a car manufacturer from 1925 to 1927, the proprietor of Indianapolis Speedway from 1927 to 1946 and chairman of Eastern Airlines from 1938 to 1963…!
Two weeks later, the drivers were at Indianapolis for the… er… 300-mile race, the only time this famous event wasn’t run over 500 miles (except when the race has been stopped due to rain).
L to R: John Aitken, Eddie Rickenbacker & Dario Resta
Dario Resta put his Peugeot fourth on the grid at 94.4 mph. Aitken (Peugeot) was on pole at 96.69 mph, followed by Rickenbacker (Maxwell) and Anderson (Premier). Resta took the lead on lap 18 and kept it until the 120th and final lap, winning at an average speed of 84 mph, and now leading the AAA championship… which he extended with another victory in Chicago (after a tight battle with de Palma). But he missed the next two races and both were won by de Palma who was now right behind Dario Resta in the championship.
None of the main drivers seemed to have competed in every race (?) and a string of successes put John Aitken in a very slim lead at the mid-point of the season although Dario Resta then won the Chicago 300, the Minneapolis 150 and the Omaha 150 races.. By November the Vanderbilt Cup had Dario Resta leading from flag-to-flag and, with Rickenbacker, Aitken and Cooper all retiring, Resta was still in a strong position for the first American Championship.
Two days later (whenever did the mechanics sleep…!?) came the American Grand Prize, on the same track, where Dario Resta established an immediate lead but soon retired with ignition problems… but Aitken and Rickenbacker also retired… but then both came back to finish first and fifth respectively… Both drivers had taken over cars from team-mates, but were not allotted championship points, leaving Dario Resta in an unassailable position and, without appearing in the final Ascot Derby, in Los Angeles, which was won by Rickenbacker, Dario Resta was hailed as the first ever AAA Champion… having won six races (more than anyone else) and led 40% of the laps, and earned $44,650… In all Dario Resta won eleven of the eighteen races over the two year, 1915-16, period.
1917 and 1918 were less memorable years, as America finally decided to join in the carnage in Europe. Perhaps at Mary’s increasing insistence Dario Resta’s career slowed down as he concentrated on his business ventures, settling his ‘family’ [I have been unable to establish if he ever had any children…] in Bakersfield, CA., where, about thirty miles away, in the tiny (and delightfully named) town of Buttonwillow (population: 1,500 in an area of less than seven square miles where, unexpectedly perhaps, the first US Post Office was established in 1895), around 1920 he built a small race-track, which still exists operationally to this day and is the California ‘flagship’ of the SCCA. The town also seems to have inspired an animated movie, in 1965, called: The Man From Button Willow…
After the War Dario Resta returned to Indy, in a Sunbeam again, but was unable to start and slowly, without actually retiring, he seemed to drift away from the sport. In 1923, at the age of 41, Dario Resta attempted a come- back, at Beverly Hills, and Indy, without a result and, by the end of the year he had returned to Europe. In his absence Sunbeam, Talbot and Darracq had merged and Dario Resta drove a Talbot 70 in Voiturette races, and a
Sunbeam in GP races… finishing third in the Penya Rhin GP, in the Talbot. On that same day, driving in a Chiribiri, was the soon to be great, Tazio Nuvolari… who finished fifth. Later in the year Dario Resta won the Spanish GP (for voiturettes). Tazio Nuvolari was placed fourth.
1924 started well but went slowly downhill and in his last major race (where Bugatti introduced their Tipo-35) Dario Resta finished tenth, a lap down…
A month later, on 2nd September, 1924, Dario Resta was back at Brooklands, scene of his first successes, seventeen years before, attempting new speed records in a Sunbeam. A security belt broke and punctured a tyre which blew instantly. Dario Resta lost control, crashed through a fence, and his car caught on fire. Bill Perkins, the riding mechanic, was only injured but Dario did not survive. He was a great champion and deserves much more than a brief mention in some Indy statistics… and half a page in Wikipedia.
Meanwhile Bill Perkins, was forced to miss the San Sebastian Grand Prix a few weeks later. Perkins was Sunbeam’s K.L.Guinness’s regular riding-mechanic and so was substituted by Tom Barrett. KLG suffered a serious crash during this race, and the unfortunate Barrett was killed. This crash led to the end of the practice of carrying riding-mechanics during races.
Well… there you have it… An interesting story in it’s own right but… is there anyone out there who knows better… or who is in a position to actually ask either Dario Franchitti or Paul di Resta what the real story is. I cannot believe I am the only ‘Inspector Clouzot’ in F1 to have come across this little saga. It occurred to me that perhaps Great Uncle Dario was a black sheep, and was no longer talked about but… ironically, when Paul first hit the headlines the German Bild newspaper did a little ‘media digging’ and discovered a quite different skeleton in the Resta Family closet… quite unconnected with motor-sport – unless you can drag Max into this – because it appears the family has long been involved in what Bild call, ‘the gentlemen’s business’…
On the 8th April, 2011 it was revealed that Paul’s Aunt Delizia ran an adult entertainment club in Edinburgh, called ‘Bottom’s Up’. And her brother, Paul’s Uncle Tom, seemed to run a similar club in the Scottish capital, called ‘Fantasy Palace’. And Tom and Delizia acquired their skills in such businesses from their 81-year old father – Paul’s grandfather – who was the proud owner of the ‘Ambassador’ sauna/brothel. And Paul’s father Louis was also a club owner, heading multiple such locations, among which the best known is ‘The Twig’ in Bathgate.
None of this causes me any loss of sleep – all to his, or her, own – live and let live – consenting adults and all that… but it does make me wonder… so let’s see how far the ‘TJ13’ feelers stretch. Be aware, I’m not looking for smut – just an idea about the relationship, if any, between these three highly talented racing drivers from Italy, via Scotland…
Unsurprisingly there aren’t a lot of film clips out there for Dario Resta but this three minutes of the first Indy 500, in 1911, gives a flavour of the times.