Bill Vukovich

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Bill Vukovich
Bill Vukovich 2.jpg
Born (1918-12-13)December 13, 1918
Died May 30, 1955(1955-05-30) (aged 36)
Formula One World Championship career
Nationality United States American
Active years 19501955
Teams Kurtis Kraft, Trevis, Rounds Rocket, Maserati
Races 6 (5 starts)
Championships 0
Wins 2
Podiums 2
Career points 19
Pole positions 1
Fastest laps 3
First race 1950 Indianapolis 500
First win 1953 Indianapolis 500
Last win 1954 Indianapolis 500
Last race 1955 Indianapolis 500

William John "Bill" Vukovich, Sr. (/ˈvjuːkəvɪ/; Serbian: Bil Vuković, Бил Вуковић; December 13, 1918 in Fresno, California – May 30, 1955 in Indianapolis, Indiana) was a Serbian American automobile racing driver. He won the 1953 and 1954 Indianapolis 500 plus two more American Automobile Association National Championship races. Several drivers of his generation have referred to Vukovich as the greatest ever encountered in American motorsport.[1]

He was known variously as "Vuky" (/ˈvuːki/ VOO-kee) and "The Mad Russian" (though he detested that name, his ancestry being Yugoslavian) for his intense driving style, as well as the "Silent Serb" for his cool demeanor.[2] He was also referred to as the "Fresno Flash" in Floyd Clymer's Indy yearbooks, and in an interview (available at the Vukovich Accident link below) his former mechanic Jim Travers calls him "Vuke".

Racer[edit]

Midget car[edit]

Before he began Indy racing, Vukovich drove midget cars for the Edelbrock dirt track racing team. He raced on the West Coast of the United States in the URA, and won the series' 1945 and 1946 midget car championships. Vukovich won the 1948 Turkey Night Grand Prix at Gilmore Stadium, and six of the last eight races at the stadium track before it was closed for good.[3] He won the 1950 AAA National Midget championship.

Indianapolis 500[edit]

In 1952, his sophomore year in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's 500-Mile Race, he quickly moved up from his starting position in the middle of the third row to take the lead, and led 150 laps in dominant fashion before suffering steering failure on the 192nd of the 200 laps. He returned to win the race in consecutive years, 1953 and 1954. He led an astounding 71.7% of laps that he drove in competition at the track, and remains the only driver ever to lead the most laps in the race three consecutive years.[3]

Death at Indianapolis[edit]

Vukovich was killed in a chain-reaction crash while holding a 17-second lead on the 57th lap of the 1955 Indianapolis 500. He was exiting the second turn, trailing three slower cars—driven by Rodger Ward, Al Keller, and Johnny Boyd—when Ward's car swerved as the result of a gust of wind. Keller, swerving into the infield to avoid Ward, lost control and slid back onto the track, striking Boyd's car and pushing it into Vukovich's path. Vukovich's car struck Boyd's, became airborne, and landed upside down after going over the outside backstretch retaining wall and somersaulting four-and-a-half times, bursting into flames. As the car burned Ed Elisian stopped his undamaged car and raced towards Vukovich in an attempt to save him. But it didn't matter as Vukovich perished instantly in the accident.

Vukovich was the second defending Indy 500 champion to die during the race, following Floyd Roberts in 1939, and the only former winner to have been killed while leading. Roberts' car was also thrown over the backstretch fence after exiting the second turn in his fatal accident. Since the 1955 race was counted as part of the Formula One World Championship, Vukovich is also the first driver to be killed during a World Championship race.

Lifetime achievement awards[edit]

Family[edit]

His son, Bill Vukovich II, and his grandson, Bill Vukovich III, also competed in the Indianapolis 500, with Vukovich II taking second in 1973, and Vukovich III being named Rookie of the Year in 1988.

Complete Formula One World Championship results[edit]

(key) (Races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 WDC Points
1950 I R C Maserati Maserati L4 GBR
MON
500
DNQ
SUI
BEL
FRA
ITA
NC 0
1951 Central Excavating Trevis Offenhauser L4 SUI
500
29
BEL
FRA
GBR
GER
ITA
ESP
NC 0
1952 Fuel Injection Kurtis Kraft KK500A Offenhauser L4 SUI
500
17
BEL
FRA
GBR
GER
NED
ITA
22nd 1
1953 Fuel Injection Kurtis Kraft KK500A Offenhauser L4 ARG
500
1
NED
BEL
FRA
GBR
GER
SUI
ITA
7th 9
1954 Fuel Injection Kurtis Kraft KK500A Offenhauser L4 ARG
500
1
BEL
FRA
GBR
GER
SUI
ITA
ESP
6th 8
1955 Hopkins Kurtis Kraft KK500C Offenhauser L4 ARG
MON
500
25
BEL
NED
GBR
ITA
25th 1

Indy 500 results[edit]

Year[4] Car Start Qual Rank Finish Laps Led Retired
1950 10 Did not qualify
1951 81 20 133.725 16 29 29 0 Oil tank
1952 26 8 138.212 2 17 191 150 Steering
1953 14 1 138.392 1 1 200 195 Running
1954 14 19 138.478 15 1 200 90 Running
1955 4 5 141.071 3 25 56 50 Accident
Totals 676 485
Starts 5
Poles 1
Front Row 1
Wins 2
Top 5 2
Top 10 2
Retired 3

F1 World Championship career summary[edit]

The Indianapolis 500 was part of the World Drivers' Championship (which later became the FIA Formula 1 World championship) from 1950 through 1960. Drivers competing at Indy during those years were credited with World Championship points and participation. Bill Vukovich participated in 5 F1 World Championship races. He started on the pole once, won 2 races, set 3 fastest lead laps, and finished on the podium twice. He accumulated a total of 19 championship points.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bill Vukovich at espn.com
  2. ^ Vukovich Indy 500 Trophy Sale Inspires Memories
  3. ^ a b Biography at the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame, Retrieved January 4, 2007
  4. ^ Bill Vukovich Indy 500 Race Stats

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Troy Ruttman
Indianapolis 500 Winner
1953-1954
Succeeded by
Bob Sweikert
Preceded by
Manny Ayulo
Formula One fatal accidents
May 30, 1955
Succeeded by
Eugenio Castellotti