ARGABRIGHT: Getting Out While On Top

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Dave Argabright

INDIANAPOLIS — There is nothing like getting out while you’re on top.

DePalma Motorsports announced in October that the 2018 racing season was its last and they are stepping off the stage after playing a starring role in USAC Silver Crown competition for the past five years.

The team earned five consecutive Silver Crown titles with Kody Swanson at the wheel, a phenomenal period that saw Swanson surpass Jack Hewitt’s all-time series win total with 24 victories. Their exploits have been unprecedented in many ways, including five straight titles (2014 to ’18) and consecutive wins (five straight this season).

In making the announcement that the team is ending operations, team owner Tony DePalma said it was time to focus on his family and other endeavors. He noted that it’s nice to get out while you’re on top, and he’s exactly right about that.

DePalma is a second-generation team owner and his family’s team has deep roots in the sport. Tony’s uncle, Ralph DePalma, and father, Jim DePalma, entered Silver Crown competition 40 years ago. Early drivers included Sleepy Tripp, Bob East and Duke Cook, and in 1980 the DePalma team gave Jack Hewitt an early Silver Crown start.

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Other drivers in the early years included Keith Kauffman, Billy Vukovich Jr., Larry Rice and Mark Alderson.

Ralph DePalma was a longtime TV and radio repairman, opening a shop — “Radio Hospital” — in Lima, Ohio in 1933. His race car quickly became known as the “Radio Hospital Special” and was a familiar sight in Silver Crown competition.

In 1984, the DePalmas teamed with a promising eastern Ohio driver to capture the USAC Silver Crown championship. Carrying sponsorship from Stenger Ford, 21-year-old Dave Blaney used the Silver Crown title as a springboard to his Hall of Fame driving career.

As the years passed the team eventually fell quiet and Ralph DePalma passed. Tony DePalma took the reins at Radio Hospital in Lima and in 2002 returned to Silver Crown competition.

Their return to prominence came when they hired Swanson for the 2014 season. Paired with legendary mechanic Bob Hampshire, the team rewrote the Silver Crown record book.

The Radio Hospital business is still going strong in Lima and has transitioned to mobile phones and other technology. DePalma exits racing on the strongest of notes and it’s unlikely anyone will eclipse the team’s numbers anytime soon.

Swanson, who is regarded as one of the top talents in all short track, open-wheel racing, was quickly hired by longtime Silver Crown team owner Gene Nolan. Swanson and Nolan teamed up to win the Little 500 at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway this past May, so their Silver Crown pairing is filled with promise.

It’s great to see DePalma exit on his own terms, but it’s bittersweet. While time always marches on, it’s difficult to replace a team with a history as robust as that of Tony, Ralph and Jim DePalma.

A span of 40 years is quite an accomplishment in racing. DePalma Motorsports did it well, all the way through.