Today’s History: Notorious Racer Kelly Petillo Wins Mines Field Race

Kelly Petillo (drinking from bottle) and riding mechanic Takio Hirashima (far right), won the 300 mile Mines Field road race. Petillo's later life was much troubled, which included spells in jail for rape, stabbing and murder. (Photo from theoldmotor.com)

National Sprint Car Hall of Famer and 1935 Indianapolis 500 winner, Kelly Petillo won the Mines Field Race on December 23, 1934. Petillo and his riding mechanic, Glendale high school student Takio Hirashima, won the 300 mile Mines Field road race in the Sparks-Weirick car that he had driven several times. The race ended shortly after 200 miles due to the fog and Petillo was declared the winner.

Petillo cashed in the $3,500 top prize by winning the race in a thick fog where drivers and spectators had difficulty seeing the road. The prize money helped fund his 1935 Indianapolis winning car and his best career year in racing. His Indianapolis win marked the first win for an Offenhauser engine in the great race. Petillo won the 1935 AAA National Championship which marked the beginning of his destruction as a person.

Now for the rest of the story.

Cavino Michelle “Kelly” Petillo, Italian-American that was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1902, had moved with his family to Huntington Park, California in 1921. Petillo was a volatile little man that was prone to heated arguments because of his quick temper. Learning to drive over the ridge of the San Gabriel Mountains in a produce truck delivering vegetables from Fresno to Los Angeles, Petillo became known for his speedy runs and it wasn’t long before the lure of automobile racing caught his attention.

The Mines Field Race put Petillo solidly on the racing map and his Indianapolis 500 win made him a household name. The 1935 AAA National Championship marked him as one of the top racers in the nation. Success however would be his downfall.

All accounts point to Petillo being a very arrogant and abrasive person. His high profile wins made the situation even worse. Unable to handle his newfound fame and wealth, Petillo was frequently arrested for assaults, drunkenness, and disorderly conduct charges.

During the World War II years, Petillo was implicated in the shooting of a Marine in a bar that the racer was running in Los Angeles. In 1948 he was charged with assault and battery with intent to kill his former secretary, a young woman that he slashed from her ear to mouth. Petillo was sentenced from one to ten years in the Indiana State Penitentiary and was paroled in 1955. In 1957 he was returned to prison for parole violations. Petillo was released from prison in 1959. Indianapolis Speedway rejected his entry for the Indianapolis 500 that year, which ended the racing career of a once great driver that couldn’t handle success.

Cavino “Kelly” Petillo died of emphysema on June 30, 1970 and is buried in Grindstone Cemetery in Glenn County, California.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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