Ralph Hepburn, the man who obliterated the Indianapolis qualifying track records with the supercharged V8 Novi in 1946, was one of America’s leading motorcycle racers before turning to four wheels in 1924. A member of the dominant Harley-Davidson factory team in the early and mid-1920s, perhaps his greatest victory came in the 300-mile marathon on the one-and-a-half-mile dirt track at Dodge City, Kansas, on July 4, 1921. He also won a 200-mile race at Ascot Park, Los Angeles, California, in 1919 and a 300-mile race at Wichita, Kansas, in 1922.
Competing in the Indianapolis 500 a total of 15 times from 1925 through 1946, he led three of them, each in a different decade: 1925, 1937, and 1946. He finished in third-place in 1931, and in 1937 he shared the wheel with Bob Swanson, placing second to Wilbur Shaw. Shaw’s 2.16-second margin of victory remained the closest finish for 45 years, until 1982. Hepburn’s four-lap qualifying mark of 133.944 miles per hour and single lap of 134.449 miles per hour with the Novi in 1946 broke the existing records by almost four miles per hour. He died as a result of an accident at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway while practicing with the Novi on May 16, 1948.
Courtesy of Indianapolis Motors Speedway Museum