NOTE: This article was originally published to highlight the 2013 edition of the race. The 2016 edition will run May 19-22.

Headlamps reflecting off ancient cobblestone streets, they rolled in two-by-two. Navigating their classic sports cars — engines and chassis defying Father Time — 415 pairs of drivers and their numbered craft paraded into and out of Vicenza’s Centro Storico like an army on a mission, then quickly raced on into the night retracing the route of an historic road race known the world over: Mille Miglia (1,000 Miles).

Mother Nature was not on her best behavior — or she just wanted to make the endurance that much tougher on “horse and rider” — as she pelted the City of Palladio earlier in the day with heavy rains, making the centuries-old stone below precarious and the road-weary pilots above tentative.

2013 Mille Miglia - Vicenza, Italy | ©Tom Palladio Images

Under cover of umbrellas, thousands of Vicentini lined the route — yours truly among the masses — cheering loudly as each team honked and sped by, collectively feeling the goose bumps that one feels when one has just witnessed history on four wheels roll right on by.

If pasta, pomodori and Prosecco help define Italy’s dinner table, then motor racing, of ANY kind, helps define the Bel Paese’s unquenchable thirst for competition. And no single race stirred that passion in her citizenry more than the Mille Miglia did. In the words of one of racing world’s most famous personalities, the late Enzo Ferrari, the Mille Miglia was,”la corsa più bella del mondo (the most beautiful race in the world).”

1000 Miglia course mapThe 1,000-mi. road race, rounded up from the actual distance of 992 mi., was a pedal-to-the-metal, white-knuckled, no-holds-barred road race — a la the chariot race scene from Ben Hur — that ran on public roads lined by millions of spectators from Brescia up north to Rome down south and back.

Today, the race is a commemorative rally dubbed the Mille Miglia Storica. It’s still run on public roads during May and pretty much follows the same route as that of the classic; but, where the road race focused on neck-breaking, daredevil speeds over one non-stop, frenetic day, the Storica focuses on rally skills and safety over a more relaxed four-day period.

The original “double M” thundered through six regions and one tiny republic, avoiding man and beast most of the time, from 1927 until 1957. It was legendary British racecar driver Sir Sterling Moss who set the record in the 1955 edition, covering the circuit in just 10 hrs. 7 min. 48 sec.

Mille Miglia Storica - Vicenza, Italy | ©Tom Palladio Images

Unfortunately, Moss’ record-setting pace was one of the major reasons why the road-race format was eventually discontinued.

Many drivers were hell-bent on breaking Moss’ record, only to fail. Marquis Alfonso de Portago, racing against the clock, died during the 1957 event when the Ferrari he was piloting blew a tire and flipped end-over-end into the crowd killing his co-pilot and nine spectators just a handful of miles shy of a top-four finish.

After that fateful ’57 race, the Mille Miglia came to a screeching halt and ended up on blocks for nearly 25 years until the format was retooled. With new life in the tank, the race returned to the open road as the more sedate Mille Miglia Storica.

The iconic Sig. Ferrari got it absolutely correct back then in his description of the Mille Miglia. Even in today’s reformatted version, it still remains the most beautiful race in the world.

©The Palladian Traveler

Borsalino w/ props SMALL | ©Tom Palladio Images

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Written by The Palladian Traveler

Tom traded his hometown St. Louis Cardinals' baseball cap in the United States for a Borsalino and he now hangs his "capello" in the Puglia region of southeastern Italy. A veteran print and broadcast journalist, with well-worn passports that have got him into and out of 50 countries and counting, Tom fell in love with the "Bel Paese" years ago. As he notes, "I'm inspired by the beauty I find in all things that are very, very old, and reliving history, or at least meandering along cobblestone streets that were laid down over a thousand years ago and just looking up and marveling at what occupies the space still today, really gets my 'Vespa' running." Tom has a good eye behind the lens and is a graphic storyteller, but he'll let you decide as he keeps his camera batteries fully charged and the posts flowing from his creative hideaway in the hills overlooking Ostuni. You can also follow his dispatches along the cobblestone via TravelingBoy.com.

16 comments

  1. As soon as I saw that first picture of the classic sports car materialise on my screen I knew it would be you, and that there’d be a great story unfolding – and so it was. Just imagine how exciting – and beautiful – it must be to participate in a race like that (now that it’s not about winning at all costs!). Super shots, super post – that’s left me dreaming … 🙂

    1. Rain or not, it was fun to cover this classic rally. Actually, the rain kept a lot of spectators away, allowing me a bit more movement to get around the city center to capture some of the shots. Glad you enjoyed it.

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