|First race||Indianapolis 500||Indianapolis||May 30, 1951||Race results|
|Last race||Indianapolis 500||Indianapolis||May 30, 1955||Race results|
Bill Vukovich has been described by several contemporaries as the greatest driver in American motorsport, but as his career was ended by a fatal crash when he was 35 his true potential will never be known.
A short, well-built man whose parents had emigrated from Yugoslavia, his first taste of driving came chasing rabbits in his parents' Model T Ford and he was soon entering local races to earn much-needed cash. In 1938 he started racing midget cars, winning the United Racing Association's West Coast championship in 1945 and 1946 and the 1950 AAA National Midget championship. But his real fame came at Indianapolis, a circuit where he said: "The only way to win here is to keep your foot on the throttle and turn left."
He was given a late ride in 1950 but failed to qualify, but returned in 1951 when he was forced to retire after 29 laps. That drive was enough to impress a local millionaire who signed him to drive, and Vukovich quit midget cars at the end of the season.
In 1952 he led for 150 laps before suffering mechanical failure eight laps from the end. He returned to win from pole in 1953, leading for 195 of the 200 laps, and underlined his class when he retained the crown the following year despite starting in 19th.
In 1955 he changed teams and joined Lindsey Hopkins. He was 17 seconds ahead on the 57th lap when he was caught up in another accident which resulted in a car being shunted into his path. He had no chance of avoiding a collision, and his car was lifted off the ground, cleared a concrete wall and then somersaulted as it smashed into the ground, bursting into flames. He died from a fracture of the skull.
In 1968 his son Billy finished seventh at the Indy 500 and was named Rookie of the Year; his grandson took the same accolade 20 years later but in 1990 he was killed in a sprint-car accident.