- November 16, 1892
- August 11, 1953
- Not Active
Tazio Nuvolari was a big racing star even before the World War II and definitely one of the heroes for the coming generations.
He was born on November 16, 1892, in Castel d’Ario, near the city of Mantua in the Lombardy region. After serving in the Italian army in the World War I, Nuvolari started his racing career in 1920 riding motorcycles. Soon, he began to participate in car races, and over the years, he was active in both categories.
During the 1920s, he was very successful in motorcycle racing and even was the European 350 cc class champion in 1925. That triumph was followed by four consecutive Nations Grand Prix (Italian Motorcycle Grand Prix) titles between 1925 and 1928.
In the 1930s, Nuvolari focused on car racing and success was imminent. In 1930, Tazio won the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy race at Silverstone and repeated that success in 1933. Nuvolari also won the 1930 Mille Miglia driving an Alfa Romeo, and he became the first driver who recorded an average speed of over 100 km/h.
The following year was marked by victories in Targa Florio and Copa Ciano, another popular race. During 1932, Nuvolari drove the powerful and fast Alfa Romeo P3 in three European Grand Prix races. He scored two wins and a second place before becoming a champion. He also added another Targa Florio win to his account, as well as the victory in Monaco Grand Prix.
That was just the beginning of a long and fruitful career. In 1933, Nuvolari won 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a severely damaged Alfa Romeo alongside Raymond Sommer. Next year, Tazio broke his left leg during the race in Alessandria which prevented him from showing his capabilities. Later in the year, he tried to race with a plaster on his leg, but that wasn’t a good decision as he was in pain.
One of the most famous details in Nuvolari’s career was the victory in the 1935 German Grand Prix at Nurburgring. He beat all the odds by beating the superior German cars, like Mercedes and Auto Union, driving an outclassed Alfa Romeo P3. Later, many were comparing that triumph with Jesse Owens victory at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Unfortunately, in 1936, Nuvolari again had a bad crash, this time during practice for the Tripoli Grand Prix, so he missed most of the year due to vertebrae injuries.
Over the years, Nuvolari became unhappy about Alfa Romeo’s inability to be as good as other German cars. The cars of the Italian manufacturer were too slow and unreliable which is why Tazio didn't have a chance to showcase his talent and abilities. Finally, in 1938, he left Alfa to fulfill one of his main wishes – to join the Auto Union. The Germans called Tazio while he was on a holiday in America and he happily joined them.
Driving a car which was better suited for his racing style, Nuvolari won his home Grand Prix at Monza in 1938, as well as also Donnington Grand Prix. In 1939, the Italian driver won Belgrade Grand Prix, the last one before the beginning of the World War 2. It was looking like that war would end Tazio’s career, but he still had passion and will, despite everything.
After the WW2, Nuvolari returned to racing. He was already 54 years old and many doubted his abilities. However, Tazio proved that he is still a top-class driver by winning the 1946 Grand Prix of Albi behind the wheel of a Maserati. He continued to race for two more years, constantly being among the front-runners, although he was in poor health condition due to acute asthma. Finally, after the Palermo-Montepellegrino hill climb race in April of 1950, Nuvolari retired from racing.
The legendary Italian suffered a stroke in 1952 and was left partially paralyzed which made him even more depressed. A year later, in August 1953, Tazio Nuvolari died after another stroke. Although his wish to die while he was racing wasn't fulfilled, his second wish was realized - he was buried in his racing uniform, a famous yellow shirt and blue trousers.
His death was a sad moment for all racing fans, especially in Italy. Around 50.000 people, led by new racing icons Juan Manuel Fangio and Alberto Ascari, attended his funeral. "You will race faster still on the streets of heaven" was the fans' message to the deceased champion.
Nuvolari was a class driver but he is also remembered as quite a strange and cranky person who enjoyed a dark sense of humor. There are many stories about his unusual habits, like racing without headlights over the night on public roads, like he did in the 1930 Mille Miglia.
Probably the most prolific story is from the 1948 Mille Miglia: the hood flew off his Cisitalia 202 SMM, then his seat came loose but he threw it out, replacing it with a sack of lemons and oranges sourced from a nearby shop. The car would continue to fall apart as the race continued but Tazio did not want to give up. Finally, a dramatic brake failure forced him to retire.
Sadly, Tazio’s private life wasn’t happy at all. Both of his sons died as teenagers, which was extremely painful for him, and over the years it greatly affected his health and mood. "Nuvolari is the greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future," once said Ferdinand Porsche.