Jimmy Murphy

Full Name:
James Anthony Murphy
Born:
12th September 1894
San Francisco, California
Died:
15th September 1924 (Aged 30)
Syracuse, New York State, Indycar race
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

"Gentle Jimmy" Murphy holds a very special place in racing history – not only as an Indy 500 winner and double national champion, but he was also the first American to win a European Grand Prix.

Upbringing and early racing career

Raised in downtown San Francisco by his Irish immigrant parents, his mother died in the April 18 1906 earthquake and so he moved in with an uncle in Los Angeles. Murphy learnt to ride a motorcycle on the way to high school and he soon became an expert mechanic.

He joined Duesenberg on his 21st birthday and was riding mechanic for Eddie O’Donnell and then Tommy Milton. A team driver after just three years, he began 1920 by winning the opening championship round on the boards of Beverly Hills. That year also included finishing fourth on his debut in the Indianapolis 500.

Grand Prix win is celebrated with ham and eggs

He crashed at Indy in 1921 but relieved Eddie Miller to finish fourth once again (although official records only credit the starting driver). Within weeks, Murphy and the four-car Duesenberg team were en route to France to race in the French GP at Le Mans.

He crashed on a practice run and was in hospital just two hours before the start. Assistance was apparently needed to get in the car but he proceeded to decimate the field and a joyous Murphy crossed the line a GP winner with countryman Ralph de Paolo second in a French Ballot.

The victory banquet is reputed to have started with a toast to the first Frenchman home (third placed Jules Goux) and the Americans promptly walked out to eat ham and eggs in a nearby café.

Indianapolis 500 victory

Murphy enjoyed further success and fame back in America during 1922. He qualified on pole position for the Indianapolis 500 and won by over three minutes having led 153 of the 200 laps. Another six victories gave Murphy a first national championship crown.

He led Cliff Durant’s ambitious six-car team in 1923 and returned to Europe to finish third in that year’s Italian GP for Harry Miller. Races missed on that excursion cost Murphy the chance of retaining his Indycar title.

On pole position at Indianapolis again in 1924, he was well on the way to that second championship after winning three successive rounds. However, Murphy clipped the inside fence twice as he attempted to pass Phil Shafer for the lead at Syracuse. Shafts of wood pierced his chest and Murphy followed Joe Boyer and Dario Resta as the third Indy 500 winning driver to lose his life in two tragic weeks.

Named 1924 Indycar Champion posthumously, his achievements from five short years rank alongside the sport’s very best.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1924 AAA National Championship
Jimmy Murphy
6 1 4 3
50% win rate
1st 1595
1923 AAA National Championship
Cliff Durant
6 0 5 2
34% win rate
2nd 1350
1922 AAA National Championship
Duesenberg Bros
Jimmy Murphy
Cliff Durant
17 3 14 7
42% win rate
1st 3420
1921 AAA National Championship
Duesenberg Bros
17 0 7 4
24% win rate
4th 1215
1920 AAA National Championship
Duesenberg Bros
10 2 6 3
30% win rate
3rd 885
1919 AAA National Championship
Duesenberg Bros
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0

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