Bill Vukovich

Full Name:
ne Vaso Vucerovich
Born:
13th December 1918
Alameda, California
Died:
30th May 1955 (Aged 36)
Indianapolis, Indiana, Indianapolis 500
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

"Vuky" was one of the greatest Indycar drivers of all time. Of Serbian descent (another moniker – "the Mad Russian" – was somewhat misplaced), Bill Vukovich scored back-to-back wins at Indianapolis only to be killed when attempting to become the first man to win the race for three years in a row.

Vukovich was a shy man who was uncomfortable with strangers or those he did not trust. Quick witted when he did speak, he struggled for everything he had from an early age and that shaped his "lead at all costs" mentality.

Early racing career

Born into a large family, his father was a grape farmer who died impoverished during the 1930s. However, both Bill Vukovich and his brother Eli were racing in midgets by the following decade and they often worked together on the track to make sure it was a Vukovich that won. From his debut in that form of racing in 1938, Bill Vukovich won the West Coast title in 1946 and 1947 and was crowned AAA National Midget Champion in 1950.

Indianapolis debut

He also passed his rookie test at Indianapolis that latter year but did not make a qualifying attempt. He lined up in 20th position for the 1951 Indianapolis 500 although his Central Excavating Trevis-Offenhauser retired from 10th with a broken oil tank after just 29 laps. His best result of that rookie season in the AAA National Championship was third at Langhorne after the race was stopped due to a multi-car accident.

Still without an Indycar win, Vukovich’s new Fuel Injection Kurtis KK500A-Offy dominated the 1952 Indianapolis 500 only for its steering arm to fail when nine laps from victory. However, Vukovich then scored clear wins at both Detroit and Denver with J.C.Agajanian’s Kuzma-Offy.

Double winner at Indianapolis

He arrived at Indianapolis in 1953 amid a heat wave and atoned for his disappointment from 12 months earlier. Vukovich qualified the Fuel Injection Kurtis-Offy on pole position and led all-but five laps to win the Indianapolis 500.

He returned with the car for his 1954 defence but only qualified on the third day and so lined-up in 19th position. Soon climbing through the field, he led for the first time shortly after quarter distance and took command on lap 150 – winning for the second time and setting a new record speed in the process. Vukovich drove a Lincoln Capri in the Carrera Panamericana in 1953 and 1954 – his car left teetering on the edge of a ravine that second year.

Vukovich qualified Lindsay Hopkins’ Kurtis KK500C-Offenhauser on the second row for the 1955 Indianapolis 500 and a third victory seemed assured when he stretched his lead to 35 seconds by lap 50. He was about to lap Rodger Ward’s Kuzma-Offy on the 57th lap when Ward’s axle broke exiting Turn 2. Ward hit the outside wall and rolled into the middle of the track. The leader and three other cars hit the wreckage and Vukovich crashed over the wall. His car landed on three road cars parked below and burst into flames but Vukovich had already been killed after fracturing his skull.

At the time of his death Bill Vukovich worked as a service station manager in stark contrast to today’s stars. "I work for a living," he had said, "and only do race driving as a hobby." He was survived by his wife Esther and two children. The 11 year old William Jr would finish second in the 1973 Indy 500.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1955 F1 World Championship
Lindsey Hopkins Racing
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
22nd 1
1955 AAA National Championship
Lindsey Hopkins Racing
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1954 F1 World Championship
Howard Keck
1 0 1 1
100% win rate
6th 8
1954 AAA National Championship
Howard Keck
Dean Van Lines Racing Division
2 1 1 1
50% win rate
4th 1000
1953 F1 World Championship
Howard Keck
1 1 1 1
100% win rate
7th 9
1953 AAA National Championship
Howard Keck
1 1 1 1
100% win rate
3rd 1000
1952 F1 World Championship
Howard Keck
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
22nd 1
1952 AAA National Championship
JC Agajanian
Howard Keck
8 1 3 2
25% win rate
12th 590
1951 F1 World Championship
Pete Salemi
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1951 AAA National Championship
John Zink
Pete Salemi
George H Leitenberger
Federal Engineering
Viking Trailer
10 0 1 0
0% win rate
23rd 291.8
1950 F1 World Championship
Indianapolis Race Cars
NJ Rounds
0 (1) 0 0 0 0