John Duff

Inducted 2006 – Competitor – Road Racing


John Duff was born to Canadian parents in China in 1895. At a young age, he was sent to their hometown of Hamilton, Ont., where he stayed till he was 16 before returning to China. After the First World War, in which he was wounded while fighting for England, he learned to drive. A year later, in 1920, he started to race. Over the next six years, he became one of only two Canadians who raced and won on England’s famous Brooklands Motor Course (Kay Petre, an honourable member of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, is the other). He also was overall winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and scored a top ten finish in the Indianapolis 500. Although other Canadians have since scored class victories at Le Mans, John Duff remains the only Canadian to win the race. And to finish in the top ten in his first attempt during the early, ultra-dangerous days at Indy, was similarly remarkable. John also set more than 50 speed and endurance records. In his day, endurance and speed records over distances of 1,000 or 2,000 miles, for 12 hours or 24 hours, were considered astounding achievements and received big play in the press. His greatest successes came while driving Bentleys. He was a Bentley dealer and delighted in racing the cars to victory. His race wins and speed records were responsible, in large part, for establishing the name and reputation of Bentley cars as reliable sports/touring machines. An accident forced his retirement from racing and he settled in California, teaching swordsmanship to many of the movie stars of that time. An enthusiastic equestrian, he was killed in a riding accident in England in 1958.