Monday, 19 September 2005 19:47
Bill Vukovich (born December 13, 1918 in Fresno, California, died May 30, 1955), was an American racing driver, of Croatian descent, known variously as "Vuky" or "The Mad Russian" for his intense driving style, and called by several of his generation the greatest driver ever encountered.
Before he began Indy racing, Vukovich drove midget cars for the Edelbrock dirt track racing team. 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, but was killed in a chain-reaction crash while holding a 17-second lead on the 57th lap of the 1955 event.
Vukovich 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 strong 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 oncoming path. Vukovich's car struck Boyd's, became airborne, and landed upside down after going over the outside backstretch retaining wall, killing him. Vukovich was the second of two not only former winners but also defending champions of the race to have died in competition, following Floyd Roberts in 1939, and the only former winner to have been killed while leading. Coincidently, Robert's car was also hurdled over the backstretch fence during his fatal accident.
As the Indianapolis 500 counted as a round of the Formula One World championship from 1950 to 1960, his career is credited with participation in 5 grands prix, with 2 wins, 19 championship points and 1 pole position scored. However, it should be noted that Indianapolis' inclusion in the championship was largely symbolic and the Indy drivers rarely entered any other Formula One races. Because of this Indy winners are often not listed in totals of Grand Prix winners and especially in statistics tables. As an example, Vukovich has an F1 winning percentage of 40%, which puts him just behind the 5-time champion Juan Manuel Fangio (47%). In percentage of lap-leader statistics in the history of Indianapolis, Vukovich holds for multiple-500-mile-race competitors a decisive record 485 laps led out of a possible 685 (70.8%).
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.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 September 2006 09:55|