Bill Vukovich 'Vuky' (1918-1955) was an American racer of Serbian ancestry who scored two victories at Indianapolis 500 in 1953 and 1954. He lost a life in a fatal accident at 1955 Indianapolis 500.
Bill Vukovich was a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner
Successful years in midget car racing
William (Bill) John Vukovich was born on December 1918 in Fresno, California, in a family of Serbian immigrants. He started his racing career during the 1940s, driving the midget cars for Californian team Edelbrock. He was the 1945 and 1946 URA midget car champion.
In 1948, he won the famous annual Turkey Night Grand Prix race for midget cars at Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles. In 1950, Vukovich was the AAA (American Automobile Association) National Midget champion. In the same year, he failed to qualify for Indianapolis 500 with two different cars (Maserati and Rouns Rocket-Offenhauser).
Bill Vukovich Vuky
AAA Champ Car and Indianapolis 500 debut in 1951
In 1951, Vukovich progressed to the AAA Champ Car Series, managing to qualify for ten races of the North American premium open-wheel championship. A part of the championship was the Indianapolis 500, on which Vukovich made a debut in the #81 Trevis-Offenhauser. His race lasted for just 29 laps, he retired due to an oil leak.
Later during a season, he switched to John Zink's #4 Kurtis Kraft-Offenhauser, scoring three top 10 results at DuQuoin, Syracuse, and Detroit. His best result was the third place at Syracuse, behind Tony Bettenhausen and Walt Faulkner.
Bill Vukovich in 1952
Two Champ Car wins in 1952
At 1952 Indianapolis 500, Vukovich was in the lead for 150 laps in the #26 Kurtis Kraft-Offenhauser before suffering steering failure just eight laps before the end of the race.
Three months later, at Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit, he scored his maiden Champ Car victory in the #98 JC Agajanian's Kuzma-Offenhauser. Vukovich was a winner one more time with the same car, in Denver 100 race at Cenntenial Park. Two wins placed him on 12th place in the 1952 AAA Champ Car final standings.
Vukovich scored his first Indianapolis 500 win in 1953
Two consecutive Indianapolis 500 victories
In 1953, Vukovich participated in just one race – the Indianapolis 500. He was driving the #14 Kurtis Kraft-Offenhauser for Howard Keck, taking probably the most dominant victory in a history of the greatest American race. He started from pole and led for 195 (of 200) laps before crossing a finish line ahead of Art Cross and Sam Hanks.
In 1954, Vukovich repeated Indianapolis 500 victory in the #14 KK-Offenhauser. This time, he started 19th on the grid and led for 90 laps before winning the race ahead of Jimmy Bryan and Jack McGrath. Later in the season, Vukovich participated in one more race, finishing 22nd at Milwaukee Mile.
1954 Indianapolis 500 - Vuky is a winner again
Losing a life during the 1955 Indianapolis 500
In May 1955, a two-time Indy 500 winner was on a way to his third victory, leading the race in the #4 Kurtis Kraft-Offenhauser. Unfortunately, on lap 57 he was involved to an accident with three other drivers (Rodger Ward, Al Keller and Johnny Boyd). Boyd's car hit Vukovich and he went airborne over the backstretch wall. The car burst into flames and Vukovich was killed instantly.
Vukovich was the second defending Indy 500 winner to die during the race, following Floyd Roberts in 1939. As Indianapolis 500 was counting for Formula 1 World Championship between 1950 and 1960, Vukovich was also the first driver to be killed during the World Championship race. Before him, several drivers lost their lives during practice runs.
Bill Vukovich and his family
Son and a grandson were also racing drivers
Bill Vukovich's legacy continued through his ancestors. His son Bill Vukovich Jr (born 1944) was also a race car driver, participating 13 times at Indianapolis 500 and taking the 1968 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honor.
Bill Vukovich III (born 1963) continued family tradition as a racer, starting three times at Indianapolis. He was also Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 1988. Unfortunately, he was also killed during a race, in 1990 at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, California.