was born in the town of Remagen, Germany on January 30, 1901 the son of parents whose family it was said originally came from Italy. When still a trainee at the Fafnir-Automobilwerke in Aachen, he started in the 1922 Avus race in Berlin and finished fourth in has class. The following year he won his first race at the age of 22. After a run-in with an officer of the Belgian occupying forces, Caracciola thought it best if he left Aachen and became a Fafnir representative in Dresden. In 1923 He worked as a salesman at newly formed Daimler-Benz and was allowed to race on weekends if the race was within driving distance of the Dresden agency. After convincing the general manager at Daimler to lend him a factory racecar he was required to enter the Grand Prix of Germany at Avus under his own name. This 25-year-old weekend racer started the most important race of his young career and promptly stalled his car. His mechanic Otto Salzar was forced to jump out and push start the lonely Mercedes. At last the car sputtered to life. Starting from dead last in a 44-car field was not what the young Caracciola had in mind. Shortly it began to rain and cars were flying off the track. One crashed into a timekeeper’s stand and killed the course worker.
The 500,000 spectators that were in attendence that day were to get the shock of their afternoon when it was announced that a new driver, one completely unknown to them had gone into the lead. But this lead was short lived as the Mercedes began to suffer from serious misfire. Caracciola pulled into the pits and in those days the driver had to do any repairs required on the car so Caracciola pulled each of the eight spark plugs out one by one. It was not until the last plug did he discover the culprit. By then it seemed that all was lost and he was urged to quit. Caracciola would hear none of this and chose to continue spurred on by a sense of duty to the factory. By the 13th lap the rain had stopped but Caracciola had no sense of his position but still he soldiered on. After driving flat-out for nearly three hours and 243 miles he crossed the finished line totally exhausted. Only then did he learn that he had won the first Grand Prix of Germany. Caracciola used the prize money to good use setting up a Mercedes-Benz dealership on the prestigious Kurfürstendamm in Berlin. He also married his girlfriend, Charlotte, whom he had met in 1923 while working at the Mercedes-Benz outlet in Dresden.
Caracciola would gain fame throughout Germany racing the legendary white SSK for Mercedes. He was renowned for his wet weather prowess. In 1929 he scored one of his greatest victories at the Tourist Trophy in Northern Ireland. Racing against the cream of Great Britain, including Bentley ace Tim Birkin, he came from a five lap handicap to win the thirty lap race in a rain storm. His victory in the 1931 Mille Miglia was not equaled by another non-Italian for 24 years until Stirling Moss won it in 1955. The starting positions were still selected by drawing lots in the 1935 Spanish Grand Prix. Caracciola would have to start from the last row. His style had always been to get to the front as quickly as possible but this time things would be a little more difficult. The flag fell and Caracciola roared off down to the first corner. Mistaking the pedal arrangement in his Grand Prix car with his touring car, he stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake. The leaders seeing this maniac charge from way behind could only give way and in spite of almost crashing out on the first corner did he garner the lead!
The year 1935 had been a special year as he returned to racing after suffering serious injuries to his body and his heart. His beloved wife, Charly, had died in an avalanche. Still hobbled by injuries his come back victory at the Grand Prix of Tripoli had a legendary quality to it. That year he became European Champion. In 1936 he won the Grand Prix de Monacobut the year belonged to Bernd Rosemeyer and Auto Union. Mercedes came back in 1937 and Caracciola was again European Champion. In 1938 he won the Coppa Acerbo at Pescara and won his third title. Rudolf Caracciola’s career was plagued by painful leg injuries and later ill health yet he continued to win many honors.
His battles with Bernd Rosemeyer and Auto Union ended in the World Land Speed Record for Caracciola and the tragic death of Rosemeyer. During World War II he lived in exile at his home in Lugano, Switzerland. After the war, his love of racing unabated, he continued to race through worsening health brought on by bone disease. After he retired Caracciola worked as a Mercedes-Benz salesman targeting allied troops stationed in Europe. He died at the age of 58 in 1959. According to the legendary Mercedes team manager Alfred Neubauer, with who he had a long and close relationship, ” … of all the great drivers I have known – Nuvolari, Rosemeyer, Lang, Moss or Fangio – Caracciola was the greatest of them all.”