The Mysterious Life of an Italian American Auto Racing Pioneer

Nina Vitagliano propelled women into the sport, but her untimely death reversed that progress.

This following article, written by Marianna Gatto, is part of the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles’ permanent exhibition.

Italy’s love affair with motorsports is traced to the turn of the twentieth century, when the Italian automakers Fiat, Lancia, and Alfa Romeo introduced their first vehicles.

By the 1920s, auto races such as the Grand Prix and Mille Miglia—a 1,000-mile race through the Italian countryside—had become extremely popular.

Long before Mario Andretti was a household name, other Italian American race car drivers, including Raffaele “Ralph” De Palma, Dario Resta and Luigi Chinetti, achieved stardom, winning the Indianapolis 500 and other prestigious races.

During the era when United States women had not yet received the right to vote, Los Angeles native Nina Vitagliano, the daughter of Italian immigrants, along with a group of female drivers known as the Speederettes, attempted to break into the world of auto racing.

Vitagliano’s mysterious life and tragic death provides insight into early twentieth century attitudes toward women, and why racing remains a male-dominated sport today. Continue reading at the IAMLA’s website, and learn more about other iconic Italian American athletes.

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