Vacca was born November 8, 1935, in Seattle, the first of two sons of Ralph A. and Rose Vacca, was raised in the Rainier Valley and graduated from Franklin High School. Both sets of his grandparents had vegetable farms and he loved spending time with the horses that worked those farms.
Washington Racing Hall of Farm breeder and prominent horseman and teamster Frank Brewster and Terry McNulty would visit the Vacca family store to buy fresh produce and offered the young Vacca brothers the chance to walk horses at Longacres at 50 cents a horse. So, while still in school, they would get up at 5:00 a.m. to go to the track and walk hots before heading to Franklin High.
He counts his “best moment” as the first time he stepped through the back gates at Longacres and trainer G. L. Martin handed him a shank attached to the filly Seattle Belle to walk, telling him to “take her to the left.”
At 20, he sent letters to major farms in Kentucky to apply for a job. He got two replies. One was a definite no and the other, from Stoner Creek Farm manager Charles Kenney, offered him the lowly wage of $40 a week in a starter position. Kenney would give him many opportunities to learn the various phases of the horse business.
So, in September 1955, Vacca made the cross-country trip to Kentucky and his second best moment was arriving in Lexington for the very first time and being “in heaven.”
In 1959, Vacca returned to Washington where he joined WHBA staff as field secretary and also was the advertising representative for The Washington Horse magazine and worked with association’s 4‑H program.
While he loved being home in Washington, Vacca found all the travelling required as field secretary was not what he wanted to do with his life, so in October 1961 he returned to Kentucky to take a position in the advertising department of the Thoroughbred Record and later worked in the Lexington office of the Daily Racing Form.
Ralph was welcomed back to the WHBA in September, 1964, and on January 1, 1966, he became the magazine editor.
In May 1973, Ed Heinemann resigned from the WHBA and Vacca was appointed “interim” WTBA general manager. By the following November he was awarded the position outright.
Through the years Vacca has been an ambassador to the sport, an industry spokesman, has encouraged young people, helped bring stallions to the state (including Native Born, Balance of Power and Captain Courageous), advised people with broodmare purchases and matings (always telling them to seek QUALITY), helped pass important state legislation, was an editorial and ad writer and served as a bid spotter and pedigree reader at sales.
After Longacres was sold to The Boeing Company in 1990, Vacca played a pivotal part in the effort to keep racing moving forward.
In May 2002, Washington Governor Gary Locke appointed Vacca to serve on the Washington Horse Racing Commission.
Even after his retirement from WTBOA on December 31, 2007, after 47 years with the association, he is still involved with Thoroughbreds. He became a first-time horse owner in 2008, racing the filly Dah Gift. He has continued serving on industry committees and boards, such as the Washington Thoroughbred Foundation. In 2011 and 2012 he helped longtime friend Dr. Mark Dedomenico put on two successful two-year-old sales at Dedomenico’s Pegasus Thoroughbred Training and Rehabilitation Center. And in addition to being a presence both on the backstretch in the morning and frontside in the afternoons, he continues as an ambassador for the sport he loves so dearly.
Vacca’s most recent occupation involves administering the MOJO Fund, an industry-related charitable fund created by Ken and Marleen Alhadeff.