Happy 72nd birthday to William John Vukovich! Better known as Billy Jr., or Bill Vukovich II, after he had a son and also named him William John Vukovich. Got it?
Even more amazing than three generations of guys with the same name, they all raced in the Indianapolis 500 and two were named Rookie of the Year.
Bill Vukovich, Sr. was by all accounts, fearless. Two-time Indy 500 winner, Rodger Ward, remembered, "Bill Vukovich was probably the greatest actual driver we have ever known in terms of his skill and his determination." Bill won the Indy 500 two years in a row (1953 and 1954) and was leading the 1955 race when he was killed in a chain-reaction crash exiting Turn Two in Lap 57. The accident horrifically summer-salted Vuky's car several rotations before it burst into flames.
Billy Jr., was only 11 years-old when his father died. Billy himself had a wonderful racing career, with 158 career starts, including 28 midget car victories. He was named the 1968 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and raced in 12 Indianapolis 500s, 1968–1977 and in 1979 and 1980.
Billy Vukovich III became the first third-generation driver to qualify in Indy 500 history. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1988 and raced in three Indy 500s. Tragically, Billy was killed in a sprint car race at Mesa Marin Raceway in 1990.
I hope that Billy Jr. is celebrating his birthday in style - he deserves it!
I'm counting down the days until the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
I'm not a race fan in the fanatic sense. I've only been to the Indy 500 a handful of times. My memories center around listening to the race on the radio in the backyard while filling out the leading laps grid from the Indianapolis Star.
I do love Indianapolis, tradition, and most of all a theme! Each day I will share a memory or tidbit of history.