Today in Transportation History – 1918: Birth of an Italian Racing Legend

Alberto Ascari, who became one of the world’s leading race car drivers, was born in Milan, Italy. His father Antonio Ascari was also an accomplished racecar driver. He died after his vehicle crashed in the 1925 French Grand Prix, just a little over a week before Alberto’s seventh birthday.

Despite the tragic circumstances of his father’s death, Alberto Ascari likewise sought to pursue a racing career. He initially competed in motorcycle races, joining a team sponsored by the Italian motorcycles manufacturer F.I.V. Edoardo Bianchi S.p.A. when he was only 19. Within the next couple of years, however, Ascari started racing with automobiles instead. One of his earliest major competitions involving this mode of transportation was the Italy-based Mille Miglia open-road endurance race in 1940.

World War II put this nascent career on hold, but Ascari resumed his car racing efforts with a vengeance after that global conflict ended. Ascari soon established himself as a formidable force behind the wheel, winning his first Grand Prix – the Gran Premio di San Remo in Italy – in 1948. Later that same year, he finished second in the Royal Automobile Club International Grand Prix in England. In 1949, Ascari won the Buenos Aires Grand Prix.

Ascari’s other notable racing achievements included driving his Ferrari 500 racecar to victory in the Fédération Internationale de ‘Automobile (FIA) Formula World Championship in both 1951 and 1952. These triumphs made him the first person to win that championship two years in a row.

Ascari was still in his prime as a racecar driver in 1955 when, in a tragedy eerily resembling the one which befell his father at the same age three decades earlier, he was killed while test-driving a friend’s sports car at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza race track near Milan. After inexplicably skidding, the vehicle overturned and Ascari was thrown out onto the track. “Ascari was dead by the time his ambulance reached the hospital,” reported the next day’s edition of the New York Times.

A chicane (the formal term for a turn) at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza was named after Ascari, and so was a chicane at what is now called the Autódromo Juan y Oscar Gálvez in Buenos Aires. The British automobile manufacturer Ascari Cars Ltd., which existed from 1995 to 2010, was also named in his memory. In addition, a street in Rome likewise bears his name. In yet another posthumous honor, Ascari was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1992.

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