|Manny Ayulo - driver
Bill Vukovich Sr. - driver
Manuel Leaonedas Ayulo was born in Burbank
California October 20, 1921, a son of a Peruvian
diplomat stationed in L.A. He was called Manny and
was called Yo-Yo by some of his friends.
As a boy, Manny had to dress up; but he seldom
wore a tie after he grew up. He had always loved
cars and raced around the L.A. streets in hot rods
as a youth. Shortly after WWII he had a Ford
roadster which he raced on dry lakes in California.
He began dirt-track racing in 1946-47.
In both 1953 and 1954, Ayulo finished 13th at Indy.
In 1954 he was 2nd in AAA national standings
(Jimmy Bryant was 1st.) with two wins, and three
2nd places in 8 championship races.
Ayulo was the last to try to qualify on Sunday May
15th, just before 6 o'clock; which was something
he was known for. Car owner Peter Schmidt
waved him off though as he was running 139 mph
and thought he could reach 140 easily.
He returned the next day, and once again, close to
6 o'clock, Ayulo took the car out.
He did not make the first turn, but drove at 140 mph
into the wall. Perhaps something went wrong with
The car slid along the wall for 518 feet.
He must have tried to brace himself with his arms as
he had no chest injuries. When the rescuers reached
the car, he was slumped forward unconscious. His
goggles were shattered.
Year Car# Car Laps completed Start Finish
1948 88 Weidel DNQ
1949 73 Karl Hall 120.49 mph, too slow
1949 52 Sheffler Offy 24, connecting rod 33 38
1950 85 Coast Grain Co 120 mph, too slow
1951 31 Coast Grain Co 131.128 mph, 2nd Alt.
1951 9 Hinkle Relieved Jack McGrath 33
1952 8 Coast Grain Co 184 - flagged 28 30
1953 88 Peter Schmidt 184 Connecting rod 4 13
1954 88 Peter Schmidt 197 - flagged 22 13
1955 88 Peter Schmidt Practice wreck, died
William John "Bill" Vukovich, Sr. was known variously
as "Vuky" and "The Mad Russian" (though he detested
that name, having been born in Fresno, California, of
Yugoslavian ancestry) for his intense driving style, as
well as the "Silent Serb" for his cool demeanor. He
was also referred to as the "Fresno Flash" in Floyd
Clymer's Indy yearbooks.
Vuky grew up on a farm in California. He tried his
hand at racing when whe was 18. Right off, he placed
second in a stock car event. Then he headed for the
midget tracks. In his first Midget race in 1938, he
flipped and suffered broken ribs and a broken
collarbone. Seven weeks later he was back in a race
After spending the war years repairing Jeeps and
trucks, he bought a Midget and became a Champion.
He won the 1946 and 1947 UBA West Coast titles
and in 1950 he won the AAA National Midget crown.
Within a few years, Bill Vukovich was one of the
country's top drivers. Racing fans said that Vuky liked
to drive just one way - hard and fast. There were
many stories about his love of speed. Vuky's blazing
spirit cloaked in a cool demeanor was evident in the
1954 Pan American Road Race. His terrified co-driver
repeatedly protested as Vukovich sliced corners on
the precipitous mountain roads. When the car shot
over a bank and dropped 50 feet, Vuky took his hands
off the wheel while the car was still airborne and said,
"OK, you drive it".
Vuky's Indianapolis 500 career was meteoric and
placed him among the best ever to compete at the
famed Memorial Day Classic. A Hall of Fame open
wheeler with only five races at the Brickyard must
have been mighty good! This charger with fire in the
belly and a beat-the-devil attitude was as good as
After a lackluster rookie year in 1951, he began a
streak that easily could have resulted in four
consecutive Indy wins. In 1952 he appeared headed
for victory when a quarter-inch pin on the steering
arm gave out on the 192nd lap, sending his car into
the wall and allowing Troy Ruttman to post the win.
In 1953 he endured searing heat and led for 195 laps
to win the 500, one of only five drivers that year to
finish the race without relief. His average speed was
128.74 mph. His qualifying speed is 138.392 mph.
In 1954, he started in the 19th position but he fought
his way into the lead at the 375-mile mark. No one
ever caught up with him. Vukie crossed the finish line,
1.1 minutes ahead of the second-place car, Jimmy
Bryan. Vukie's average speed was a record-breaking
130.84 mph (210.561 kph). Vukie had joined Wilbur
Shaw and Mauri Rose as the only drivers to have won
the Indy 500 two years in a row*.
Then it was 1955. It was time for a third straight win.
It was time to face the Indy Jinx. Though he was a
tough driver, Bill was a quiet man. This year, he
seemed especially quiet. He acted as if he didn't want
to be in the race. One day he told a friend he had the
feeling that he wouldn't finish.
On the night before the race, he turned to his wife. He
said they ought to forget the 500 and go home. The
next morning, he stopped alongside a fellow driver and
looked at the crowd. He said that the fans thought the
drivers were "freaks." He added that they were right.
Perhaps he sensed the tragedy that was to come.
Still, Bill Vukovich raced as hard as ever that day.
Starting in fifth position, he quickly knifed his way to the
front. By lap 57, everyone thought a third straight win
might be his. Vuky was leading by half a mile. He shot
down the back straightaway. He came up to the rear of
the pack. Just ahead were Rodger Ward, Al Keller,
and Johnny Boyd.
The racers swept into the turn. Without warning,
Ward's car went out of control. It had a broken axle.
The car flipped over on its back. Keller swerved to
avoid Ward. He headed for the wall, swung back onto
the track, and plowed into Boyd.
|Ayulo's 1953 Indy 500 racer
He was taken to Methodist Hospital.
Besides some broken bones and lacerations,
he had a basal skull fracture.
He died 19 hours after the accident, on
Tuesday May 17th at 12:55 p.m.
Ayulo had said that if anything went wrong
with the car it would be his own fault. He
was an excellent mechanic and either
supervised all the work on the racer or did
it himself. The AAA investigators who
inspected the wrecked car could not be
certain that the broken axle and the vertical
steering shaft that had pulled out of the
lower steering arm had actually caused the
He was survived by his wife Charlene and
daughter Frances (4). Charlene was not
at the track the day of the crash.
|Bill Vukovich's 1953 Winning Indy 500 Car
|Bill Vukovich's 1954 Winning Indy 500 Car
Year Car# Car Laps completed Start Finish
1950 10 I.R.C. DNQ
1950 87 R.E.C. DNQ
1951 81 Central Excavating 29 - oil tank 20 29
1952 26 Fuel Injection 191 - steering 8 17
1953 14 Fuel Injection 200 1 1
1954 14 Fuel Injection 200 19 1
1955 4 Hopkins 56 - wreck, died 5 25
|Belmont Memorial Park, Fresno, CA
* Regarding the Indy jinx, After winning two races in a
row, Wilbur Shaw wrecked while leading and was injured
in a career ending accident in 1941. Mauri Rose went on
to win that race. The war years put the Indy 500 on hold
until 1946. Mauri techincally could have two in a row by
winning the '46 race. However, he hit the wall and was
thrown out and he landed on the track in a sitting
position! Stunned, he sat there as the pack shot past.
His mind began to clear, and he started to think he was
ok, he got up, and found he'd fractured his hip! Mauri
came back and won the following two Indy 500's though.
If he could win in 1949, he could still make three in a row.
He was closing in on the leader, 20 laps from the end,
when his magneto strap broke forcing him to limp into the
pits, ruining his hopes for three in a row. Al Unser almost
did it too, winning in 1970 and 1971. He finished second
to Mark Donohue in 1972. Perhaps someday a driver will
beat the Indy jinx once and for all.
Boyd skidded between the overturned Ward
and the wall. He headed directly into Bill's path.
Bill hit him broadside. The Vukovich car
bounced across Boyd's rear wheel, shearing it
off. Then the car sailed over the wall. It turned
over while in the air and smashed nose-first
into the ground. It bounced high twice. Then it
exploded in flames and landed on its back. At
the wheel, Bill Vukovich was dead.
Track officials investigated the crash. They
found that Bill had died before the flames
reached him. The cause of his death was a
skull fracture. He was 36 years old.
Bill's son and grandson would go on to compete
in future Indy 500's.
Fire and ice -- Bill Vukovich shunned adoring
crowds, yet had an unquenchable desire to
excel for them. His life ended as it had been
lived -- going for it all.
|The Indianapolis Motor Speedway
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