A Report On The Accident That Killed Bill

 Vukovich In The 1955 Indianapolis 500-Mile-Race

       

 

 

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Vukovich Visitor Guide

 Here is a visitor guide to Vukovich historical sites that are still in existence.  It is possible that more sites will be added as time goes on.  Note also that many of these sites can be seen on Google Earth.

Fresno:

 

Vukovich Memorial:  Located in Downtown Fresno at the Convention Center on M Street & Ventura Avenue directly in front of the main entrance to Selland Arena.  You can't miss it and it is very impressive.  M Street is one way running South.  You can usually park on the street in front of the arena if there are no functions going on at the time.

 

Vukovich 76 Service Station:  Located on the corner of Hazelwood and Butler South of Downtown.  The service station was left almost completely original until the 1990's when the island coverings were removed.  But the office was still there the last time it was checked and is now a small convienence store.  Vukovich's other service station was at W. Belmont and N. Fruit but is now a parking lot.

 

Church where Funeral was Held:   The address is 208 E street and is Southwest of Downtown.  Recent freeway construction has somewhat isolated the church and if you take the wrong road you will not be able to reach it even though you can see it.  If you have trouble, just keeping driving around or get more precise directions.  You will be able to see the Church before you actually get there.  It seems to be almost in original condition.  The front steps have been modified slightly.  It might be possible to get inside if you find the right person.  It used to be the largest Church in Fresno. 

 

Vuky Fresno Parade Route/Memorial Auditorium:  We are not sure sure what streets the parade proceeded but probably Fremont and or Tulare Streets.  It ended at Fresno's Memorial Auditorium in Downtown Fresno at Fresno, N, O and Merced Streets.  The Auditorium is also the original location of the Vukovich Memorial and where the original dedication ceremony took place.

 

Vuky Home in Fresno:  The home is located at 3850 Orleans Avenue in Fresno just a few blocks south of the site of the 76 Service Station at Hazelwood and Butler.  Vuky and wife Esther purchased the home in the late 1940's and Esther sold it in 1959.  It is said to look pretty much the same as it did then.  If you go to the home you will notice a cinder block wall at the end of the driveway.  This is where Vuky's midget was parked for the family picture which appears on the web site.  Please be aware there are people living in the home.  They do know the Vukovich history but of course may not want to be disturbed so please be courteous. 

 

Burial Site:  Vuky is buried in Belmont Memorial Park at 201 North Teilman in Fresno.  It is East of Highway 99 North of Downtown.  You can see it from the freeway with all of the tall trees.  Take Belmont Avenue and when you come in the front entrance off Teilman, proceed to Section 13.  The grave number is 1605-4.  His wife Esther is buried alongside him.  Her father John is also buried a few rows up from Vuky and slightly to the right.  His name is written John Vukurovich on the headstone.  This is the second in the progression of three spellings of the Vukovich name.

 

Old Ironsides:  The "Shaker" is still in existence and shown on occasion at various car shows.

 

Vukovich II. Liquor/Convenience Store:  For a time the Bill Vukovich II owned a Liquor/Convenience Store in Fresno in conjunction with a family friend.  They sold it in the 70's but the building is still there on N. Weber Avenue just North of  W. Clinton Avenue.

 

The Working Fields:  Most of them are still there, especially south of town for the next 100 miles.  If you should be there on a 110+ degree day you will know what Vuky meant when he said about the '53 race, "if you think this is hot try driving a tractor in Fresno in July."

 

Click here for overall view of Fresno with visitor sites.

 

Indianapolis:

 

Houses on 15th Street There are two houses in Speedway that we know about.  One is at 4946 W. 15th Street which he stayed at in 1951 that we know of -- maybe longer.  The other is at 4960 W. 15th Street.  Both homes are on the same block on the same side of the street.  It is thought that Vuky stayed at the 4946 house in the early years and then moved to the Thompson home at 4960 later.  He apparently liked the general location and wanted another home nearby when he stopped staying at 4946..

 

The Alley:  It is thought that Vuky sometimes would go out the back of the house at 4960 W. 15th and walk to the Speedway through the alley in back which also goes behind the Conkle Funeral Home and comes out on Main Street in Speedway.  The alley is easily reached by walking on Main a half block north of W. 16th Street.  Since he walked to the track that morning in 1955 it is easy to see why Vuky would have tried to avoid the crowds by going through the alley.   So there you can see what might have been Vuky's final morning walk to the track in 1955.

 

Mates' White Front Tavern:  A fascinating establishment that was open during the 1950s.  Dubbed "The Most Friendly Place in Town" and originally located at 3729 W. 16th Street it was then moved to 3535 W. 16th Street when the railroad underpass was constructed in 1952.   The business was a destination for many of the drivers and crews featuring food and entertainment and Vuky also frequented the place.  The original owners, George and Violet Mates, had similar backgrounds as Vuky having immigrated from Eastern Europe and Vuky could get a good home cooked meal which he enjoyed.  Both the old and the relocated Mates' White Front buildings are still there.  www.mateswhitefront.com.

 

Accident Site:  It is possible to view the accident scene on foot on some days.  During practice days for the 500 is is possible to walk by the Southeast Vista, the Turn Two Suites, by the officials stand and then to the tunnel that connects to the infield.  The tunnel is at the location of the old bridge so that gives one a point of reference.  The old Polo Barns beyond that were removed quite some time ago and replaced with new buildings.  If you are careful and keep walking past the tunnel you can get pretty close to where Vuky came to rest.  With right credentials you can drive past the area on your way to Turn Three.  There is a way to find the exact place the car stopped but it requires going into the track infield.  In 1955 there was a gravel road on the other side of the track from the accident which lined up perfectly with where the car stopped.  Even though there has been new grass endlessly put in over the years, there are still remnants of that gravel road.  Find that and you can then determine where the car stopped. 

 

IMS Museum:  Of course in the museum is the world famous Fuel Injection Special.  But Vuky is noted many other times within the musuem confines.

 

Vukovich Suite: The Suite is located in the group just South of Gasoline Alley entrance and can be seen from inside the garages.

 

550 N. La Salle Street:  The address quoted in the newspapers the day after the accident to be the home of  Paul Colip Jr., the person sitting in the Studebaker Sedan that the Vukovich car hit.   (Not visible Google Earth)

 

 

Los Angeles:

 

Kurtis-Kraft Race Cars:  Where Vuky's Fuel Injection Special and Hopkins Special cars were constructed.  The Hopkins Special was also returned to this shop to be rebuilt.  Located at 4635 Alger Street right on the border of Los Angeles and Glendale City Limits.  The original building is still pretty much intact.  Please note that the address on the buildings do not match the original addresses.  There are two similar looking buildings.  We believe that Kurtis occupied both these buildings.  The temporary structure between the buildings has been added since 1955.  Originally the "alley" continued until the railroad tracks.  The picture of Vuky's wrecked car being unloaded at the shop was in the wider of the two openings -- the one between the two pink buildings.  There is work going on in the buildings so please be aware of that and people may not have time or desire to show your through.  If you can get in it would be worth it as you can still feel the vibes from the Roadsters being built in there.  It is incredibly fragile to think that practically the entire field of the Indianapolis 500 was constructed in this building.  Frank Kurtis left Kurtis-Kraft in 1956 to start his own company and was located at 525 W. Colorado Boulevard in Glendale.  Some of that building still stands as well.   

 

Gilmore Stadium:  Now the location of CBS Television, a very popular race track in the Midget era that Vuky raced at regularly.  Located at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard, the location is worth checking out.

 

Traco Engineering:  Frank Coon and Jim Travers formed a company called Traco Engineering building Indy engines.  Their shop was located in Los Angeles near the intersection of the San Diego and Marina (90) Freeways.  The shop was on W. Jefferson Boulevard and it is difficult to find but the building is still be there.  You must wind around under giant freeway overpasses.  It was a smaller size shop in a row of buildings just West of the Freeway.  (Satellite image of row of buildings)  At one time it operated there was a large Champion Spark Plug sign on the front.  We have driven by the building lately and failed to locate the actual facility.  We believe it is one of the two side by side cinder block structures near the center of the row.  We are checking further to confirm this.

 

Highway From Fresno to L.A. over The Grapevine:  Vukovich some mornings would leave Fresno early and drive to L.A. to get parts and then be back by early afternoon -- a long drive.  In those days the roads were much more difficult.  Interstate 5 is a notably easier drive than the old Highway 99.  You can still see the old road down below at times from I-5.  Imagine driving it in a 1950s car in 105 degree temperatures.

Sacramento:

Hughes Stadium:  This was built primarily as a football stadium but was used for Midget racing well into the 1950s.  The race track is now a running surface but most everything else is original.  It is a quarter mile track and looks very racy with very good views.  It is easy to see Vuky out there tearing up the field of cars.  Vuky raced here on several occasions.  The facility is on the site of Sacaramento City College, Sutterville Road & Freeport Boulevard West of Highway 99 Freeway..

 

Old California State Fairgrounds:  You will have to feel your way on this one.  Used for the Annual 100 Mile Golden State 100 Big Car Race, most everything is gone,.  However, you can still see remnants of the backstretch, some of the trees will look familiar and the circular water tower to the north which was always in the background in the pictures and movies.   After recognizing those landmarks you can then somewhat reconstruct the track in your mind.  Vuky never raced on the Sacramento Mile but attended most of the races and drove the pace car once.  Located at the corner of Stockton Boulevard and Broadway.

San Francisco Bay Area:

Alameda:  This is where the Vukovich family originally settled in California.  Fortunately, the town has down a lot to preserve it's past so you can drive down Central Avenue and see the old businesses and homes.  If you look close you might find the original hospital site that Vukovich was born at.   

Bakersfield:

Other Race Tracks:  There are race tracks in California that Vuky raced on that still exist.  Some of them he refused to race at such as Oakland Speedway which is no longer in existence.  We will try to list as many of them as possible in the near future.

 

 

 

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