When people visited James “Jimmy” Murphy’s repair garage, they perhaps would not have anticipated that he would eventually become one of the most accomplished racecar drivers of the 1920s. Murphy began his career as a mechanic, opening a garage with a friend months before graduating high school. There, he developed clientele and connections in the Los Angeles area, as well as a reputation for repairing motorcycles and automobiles.
In 1916, his reputation led him to become a riding mechanic for Eddie O’Donnell in a Duesenberg at the Corona road race. When Murphy was serving in World War I, his friend, Eddie Rickenbacker, encouraged him to try racing. Rickenbacker himself was a racer, and had finished 10th while driving a Duesenberg at the Indianapolis 500 in 1916. From his days as a riding mechanic, Murphy was friends with Duesenberg’s number one driver, Tommy Milton. It was Milton who used his influence to secure a Duesenberg for Murphy’s first race.
It was February 14, 1920. The race was at the Beverly Hills Speedway. No one thought the rookie Jimmy Murphy would win. Yet Murphy surprised everyone when he came in first place, thus beginning his successful career as a racer. He went on to win many other races. Mostly nota bly, in 1921, he became the first American to win a Grand Prix in an American car – a Duesenberg that in 1922 drove to victory at the Indianapolis 500. The same year, he became the National Champion and won the final Universal Trophy Cup Race. Murphy continued this trend of success until his final race on September 15, 1924 at the fairgrounds in Syracuse, New York. While competing in this race, Murphy fatally crashed through a wooden rail and died before he could reach the hospital. His legacy and fame continued after his death, and in 1998, James “Jimmy” Murphy was inducted into the Motor sports Hall of Fame of America.