A Report On The Accident That Killed Bill
Vukovich In The 1955 Indianapolis 500-Mile-Race
Current Racing News
A Tribute to Billy III
Shortly after Billy Vukovich III's passing in 1990, John Malloy, son of Indy car owner Emmett Malloy, was inspired to write this tribute to Indy's 1988 "Rookie of the Year".
Bill Vukovich III was killed in a sprint car crash in Bakersfield last week. Hearing his death announced on the radio brought back the memory of Memorial Day in 1955 when his grandfather was killed at Indianapolis. I was 12 years old then and listening to the race on the radio that day too. I can still remember the sadness I felt as Sid Collins made the announcement after the crash.
Vuky seemed indestructible. He had won the two previous "500"s and was on his way to number three when death struck. I have only recently seen the film of his wreck in 1955 – his slick roadster flipping wildly over the backstretch wall at Indy. The violence of the impact left no doubt that he had been killed.
My late father, Emmett Malloy, had a car entered in that 1955 Indianapolis race. His car, driven by Jimmy Reece (who was later to die in a racing crash himself), was the first car out of the race in 1955.
My Dad was a good friend of Vuky. Vuky had driven my Dad’s sprint car earlier in his career and the two of them really liked one another. Vuky’s death that day left an emptiness in my Dad that was never filled. Dad said he had eaten breakfast that morning with Vuky in the garage cafeteria and he was deeply saddened by his death. My Dad raced his car the following week at Milwaukee and sold the car shortly thereafter and he never did return to racing.
In those days the chances of surviving a car racing crash were much less than today. I can remember going down the list of drivers in that 1955 Indy field. Nearly one half of those 33 drivers would later be killed in auto racing crashes.
I followed Billy Vukovich Jr’s racing career on an off over the years that followed. I know that he was a good driver.
Then came Vuky III and this is what makes this story special to me. I met Vuky III at Indy in 1988. It was his rookie year and he had already qualified his car for the race. On the day before the race my brother Tom introduced me to his crew chief, Galen Fox of Gohr Racing. As things happened I was given the opportunity to become a co-sponsor on the car for the race.
Ever since my Dad’s car had raced at Indy in 1955 it had been a burning ambition of mine to be involved n sponsoring a car in the Indy 500. Knowing full well that this was close to a sponsorship as I could afford, I gave Galen the $5,000.00 we agreed on and was quickly part of the team. (In case you do not know how some of the low budget teams operate – even in Indy Car racing – this is how it is done.)
I was the proudest person in Gasoline Alley that afternoon as my name was painted on that car. I cannot describe the emotions I felt. Indy is often described by those who travel there as a pilgrimage. I knew then that one of the great ambitions in my life was being realized. This was my Mecca!
Vuky III was a great kid. I got my picture taken with he and his dad in the garage that day and tried to play the part of a car sponsor as best I could. They really did not pay much attention to me but inside I felt like the greatest person in the world.
Vuky III ran a steady race the next day and finished well enough to be named the "Rookie of the Year". As the only third generation driver to compete in the "500" he immediately established himself at Indy.
I got back to the garage area after the race – got more pictures taken – and really felt like I was part of the whole affair – although they still did not pay much attention to me. I returned home that night to Los Angeles feeling though I had truly fulfilled one of the great things in life I had always wanted to do.
In the brief years that followed I kept track of Vuky III’s career. Whenever his name was mentioned I would always try to tell who ever would listen that I had sponsored his car at Indy in his rookie year. I am sure you can imagine the different responses I would receive depending on who might be listening. No matter what, it was always special to me. I still carry a box of pictures with me from the race showing my name prominently displayed on the car and if I get a hold of the right person – look out!
Just last Thursday night (Thanksgiving) I saw Vuky III for what would be the last time. He was at Ascot Race Track in Gardena to accept a trophy symbolizing his late grandfather’s induction into the Midget Car Racing Hall of Fame.
This was the last race ever to be run at Ascot but I sure did not think at the time that it would be the last time I would see Vuky III alive. I had seen him accept the trophy for his grandfather and he had just barely got by me leaving the press box before the main event I almost ran after him to chase him down to say hello but for some reason I stopped.. I surely would have chased him down if I had known then what I know now. I would have grabbed him and never let him go. I would have made sure he paid attention to me.
Goodbye Vuky III – it was a short run – too short. I know your dad is crushed. I am crushed too.
Goodbye Vuky III – I hardly knew you.