Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Vukovich Dies at 79

INDIANAPOLIS (Monday, Aug. 21, 2023) – Bill Vukovich II, the 1968 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and a member of one of the race’s most prominent families, died Aug. 20. He was 79.

Vukovich was the son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bill Vukovich and the father of fellow Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Billy Vukovich III, as the Vukovichs were one of only five families to have three generations of drivers compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” joining the Unsers, Andrettis, Foyts and Brabhams.

California native Vukovich made 12 starts in the “500” between 1968-80, with six top-10 finishes. His best result was second in the rain-shortened race in 1973, driving the No. 2 Sugaripe Prune Eagle/Offy fielded by Jerry O’Connell.

That result started a three-year stretch of excellence at the Speedway for Vukovich, who finished third in 1974 and sixth in 1975. His best qualifying effort also came in 1975, when he started eighth in the No. 6 Cobre Tire Eagle/Offy fielded by Fletcher Racing.

In 1968, Vukovich qualified 23rd and steadily climbed to finish seventh as a rookie driving the No. 98 Wagner-Lockheed Shrike/Offy fielded by fellow Californian J.C. Agajanian. That performance earned Vukovich the Rookie of the Year award.

Vukovich also was a longtime standout INDYCAR SERIES driver, with 158 career starts and 85 top-10 finishes between 1965-82. His sole career victory came Sept. 16, 1973, at Michigan International Speedway in a 125-mile race that was the first event of a doubleheader that day. His best season came in 1972, when he finished second in the USAC Champ Car standings behind Joe Leonard.

The versatile Vukovich also was a star on short tracks across America. He earned 23 USAC National Midget victories during his career, racing for such premier team owners as J.C. Agajanian.

That success led to Vukovich being enshrined into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998, joining his father. All three Vukovichs also are enshrined in the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame, as they all called the California city their hometown. Motorsports brought Vukovich much acclaim, but the sport also took a tragic toll on his family. His father, Bill Vukovich, died from injuries suffered in an accident while leading the 1955 Indianapolis 500 as he was trying to win the race for an unprecedented third consecutive year. Bill Vukovich II’s son, 1988 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Billy Vukovich III, also suffered fatal injuries during practice for a sprint car race in November 1990 at Bakersfield, California.