American Racing Legend Phil Hill Dies at 81

Phil Hill, the only American-born Formula One champion, died Thursday of complications from Parkinson's disease. He was 81.

The 1961 Formula Open champion and a three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, Hill died at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, said friend John Lamm, a noted automotive photographer and editor-at-large with Road & Track magazine.

"He raced at a time when racing was extremely dangerous and got through it all without a serious injury," Lamm said. "He had an extraordinary mechanical sense. He was very much in tune with the car."

•Click here for photos.

Hill won the 1961 Formula One title by a point over Wolfgang von Trips, the Ferrari teammate who was killed in the team's final race of the year. Hill won three F1 races, taking the Italian Grand Prix in 1960 and 1961 and the Belgian Grand Prix in 1961.

"I, as well as all employees of Ferrari are extremely saddened by the news of the passing of Phil Hill, a man and a champion who gave so much to Ferrari," Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said. "Phil and I have always kept in touch throughout the years and I know I will miss his passion and love for Ferrari very much."

Mario Andretti is the only other American F1 champion. He was born in Italy.

After retiring as a driver in 1967, Hill worked as a racing commentator for ABC and a contributing editor for Road & Track magazine, and devoted time to classic cars and auto restoration.

"His knowledge of automobiles was almost spooky," Lamm said. "And he knew it off the top of his head. ... He was extremely intelligent and well-rounded. He was an opera expert and very well-read. He was very sophisticated."

Hill, also a three-time winner of the Sebring 12-hour race, was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1991.

"Phil was a very special guy and had a love for the automotive age," said Dan Gurney, a teammate with Ferrari. "He was always a potential winner when he sat in a race car. He was both a competitor and a close friend and a fellow I could look up to."

Hill, born in Miami on April 20, 1927, grew up in Santa Monica and attended the University of Southern California.

He's survived by wife Alma, son Derek, daughter Vanessa Rogers, stepdaughter Jennifer Delaney and four grandchildren.