The passion of Bill Vukovich

Book Review: Vukovich by Bob Gates When automobile racing is described as a disease or an addiction, those terms convey the control the sport exerts over its participants. Compelled to compete, many drivers have risked everything: their ...

Book Review: Vukovich by Bob Gates

When automobile racing is described as a disease or an addiction, those terms convey the control the sport exerts over its participants.

Compelled to compete, many drivers have risked everything: their careers, family relationships or the ultimate price - their lives - to pursue their dreams.

Bill Vukovich was a man who had the passion. In pursuing his dream he made calculated risks and very nearly won four consecutive Indianapolis 500 races in the 1950s.

The book Vukovich by Bob Gates is the story of a man who paid the ultimate price in pursuit of his dream, yet managed to leave behind a legacy spanning three generations. His story is now intertwined within the history of the greatest race of all time, the Indianapolis 500.

Vukovich arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1950 after several successful years racing midgets on the West Coast. Although he failed to make the race that year, driving an outdated car which Wilbur Shaw had driven to victory 10 years earlier, the frustration from Vukovich's first taste of Indianapolis only strengthened his passion and determination to succeed at the Speedway.

Returning in 1951, Vukovich hadn't attracted enough attention yet to secure a ride in a top car. That would change quickly. Starting in the middle of the seventh row, he managed to drive into a top-10 position by lap 20. Nine laps later he was out of the race, however, with a mechanical failure.

His fierce drive early in the race had not gone unnoticed. In 1952 Vukovich signed to drive the Fuel Injection Special for millionaire Howard Keck. In his second Indy 500 Vukovich dominated the race, leading 150 laps until a steering problem sent his car into the wall just eight laps from the checkered flag. Troy Ruttman went on to win the race. So, with a 25-second lead over his closest competitor late in the event, Vuky was robbed of his first victory due to the failure of a small pin in the steering assembly.

Prior to the 1953 Indy 500, the name Vukovich circulated the garage area as the man who should rightfully take the victory which had narrowly slipped through his fingers the year before. Vukovich, a blunt yet humble man, shunned the media. He attracted their attention more than ever when he took the pole position in qualifications, completing his run as the skies opened, rooster tails of water streaming off his car's rear wheels as he motored down the frontstraight. But Vuky only openly shared his thoughts with close friends within his inner circle. He was a private man who now exerted extra effort to avoid the ever-present media.

When the green dropped on race day Vukovich led from the pole and only relinquished the lead when he made his first pit stop. Five laps later he was back in the lead, a position he would hold until the checkered flag.

The following year at the Speedway Vukovich would again dominate the race. Gates quotes Vuky from The Indianapolis Star: "Guys were saying you can't win two in a row. I didn't say anything. I just let them talk. But I knew Rose and Shaw won two in a row, and they weren't supermen. I plan on driving a couple of more years here anyway. And a guy can keep on winning here. He's got to have luck, sure, and the right combination. But it's not impossible. Nothing is impossible."

With two consecutive victories under his belt, Vuky was leading the 1955 race when he was collected by the accident that ultimately cost him his life.

Nothing is impossible.

A decade after Vuky turned his last lap at the Speedway, his son, Billy Vukovich, would begin racing. He ultimately had a successful career racing midgets, sprints and Indianapolis cars.

The third generation of Vukoviches to race at the Speedway, Billy Vukovich III, would ultimately lose his life before he reached his prime.

Both earned Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors - Billy Vukovich in 1968 and Billy Vukovich III in 1988.

Gates' Vukovich begins with young Bill Vukovich's struggles to relieve the family's financial burdens after the death of his father, while at the same time trying to satisfy his compelling need to compete on the local race tracks around Fresno, Calif. The book provides insight into a racing family that achieved various levels of success, from one of the greatest drivers ever to race at the Speedway to two successive generations, each great drivers in their own right, and their need to step from the shadows of Bill Vukovich to establish their own identities.

The measure of success has little to do with levels of achievement if one manages to live his dreams.

Gates' book clearly chronicles that all three Vukoviches lived their dreams.

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Series Other open wheel , USAC
Drivers Bill Vukovich