Bill Vukovich After Winning the 1954 Indianapolis 500

Published On March 2, 2011 » 3206 Views» By admin » Blogs, IMS Photo Digitization Project

Over 4.5 million photos reside in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Photo archives at the Hall of Fame Museum. In the next few weeks, I will extract some of the most fascinating shots to share the story and provide insight to the “behind the scenes” of how they were taken.

People often ask me what my favorite photo I’ve ever taken here at IMS is and with the hundreds of thousands of them I’ve shot over the years, I would be hard pressed to select just one of them.  I do have my favorites.

To begin with my all time favorite photo in the archives has to be the one taken in 1954 of Bill Vukovich after winning his second Indianapolis 500.  He was not too fond of the interviews and questions about how the race went for him, all of the photos snapped of him after the race, and the pomp and circumstance of a win. Bill was finally alone in his garage and an IMS photographer (O’Dell & Shields were the “Official Photographers” at that time) happened along and shot the photo below of an exhausted Vuky sitting, sweaty and covered in dirt and grime, on the work bench of the garage.

The photo conveys how draining an afternoon of racing could be in those days and is one of the most often used images in the massive IMS Photo Archives. The photographer was not identified on the negative envelope so kudos could not be given to  him. Quite a shame for such a great photo.

Bill Vukovich After Winning the 1954 Indianapolis 500

Bill Vukovich in 1954

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22 comments
Richard
Richard

This Pic. is after his win in 1953, not 1954!

richard
richard

I can see why you picked that photo from the archives as your favorite. The image captures the pain and suffering those drivers faced in completing the 500-mile race.

Dennis Johansen
Dennis Johansen

:-) Thanks. You made my day. I still miss him. Your generation doesnt know who Bill V. was.

AJ Hahn
AJ Hahn

Dennis Johnson, I actually am living in Lexington, Ky. right now wich is a temporary situation. I am planning on getting married and moving back to Cincinnati, Ohio as soon as possible. I grew up in Cincinnati and went to the Lawernceburg Speedway and Eldora a lot as a kid. I would hear the stories about the guys that made those places legendary and Vuki was in those stories sometimes. As a teenager who had been to every 500 since the 1st grade I started listening to Donald Davidson on 1070 wich came in pretty clear on my radio in the upstairs bedroom. in Cincincinnati 1070 comes in pretty good if you are west of 700 wlw's tower. When Donald talks about certain drivers you can tell he cares about them. Clark and Vukovich are two of those drivers. I got curious about Vukovich and started asking questions and reading everything I could about The 500 to figure out who some of these "legends" were. Vukovich, Shaw, DePalma, Harry Miller, and A.J. Watson became heros of mine even though I never got to see them or the cars they built in action. Vukovich was always so private and everthing I have ever read about him talks about how noble he was and about how much integrity he had. He had a great work ethic. His work ethic is characteristic of that generation. Always working hard. There is no coincidence that the more that generation passes on the worst our economy gets. Hard work and integrety made this country great and it made Bill Vukovich the best driver of his time.

Mike Knapp
Mike Knapp

Thank you so much, Dennis, for all of your stories about Mr. Vukovich. They are very interesting and give a lot of insight into a man that didn't give up very much of himself to many.

Dennis Johansen
Dennis Johansen

can you imagine a driver from today looking like that after the 500??? Milka? Danica?? Dixon?? Doesnt take the huge arms and upper body required back then.

Dennis Johansen
Dennis Johansen

In 1954 Fresno had"BILL VUKOVICH" day with a parade in downtown Fresno and a dinner at the Memorial auditorium. Atthe dinner they presented Bill with framed (would have been a plaque today) proclamation honoring him for his accomplishments in the 500. That proclamation hangs in my home office today. Just before he left for the Speedway in 1955, April, 1955, Bill, Fred Gerhardt, my dad and I were in his garage. The 45 midget was in the garage and I sat in it for awhile .Then as i was looking at the framed proclamation hanging in the gagrage Bill said, "You like that Denny?" he took it down off the wall and gave it to me. It hangs next to the picture taken during the 55 race when he is under the white line, two left side tires IN THE GRASS, crossed up, as he blows by McGrath on the inside. McGraths comment on that pass is priceless. The other pic by it is the one shown here. .The man was the greatest ever at the Speedway!!!!~ He once told my dad...These guys make the same mistakes at Indianapolis that they made running midgets back in California!.

Dennis Johansen
Dennis Johansen

AJ...Loved ur post on Bill sr. He WAS the greatest ever and a few weeks ago my wife suggested that I sell my Vukovich collection....I was passed out for 2 hours..I treasure my memories of him and the time i was able to spend with him. When my dad would meet him for coffee at 6 A.M. every morning, I would be up at 5 to be sure I got to go. He was a super nice guy, not the mean uncaring man so many sports writers of that time wrote about. He is the greatest ever at the Speedway. I love to share my memories with people about Bill Vukovich. I was only 10, but I cried for days when he was killed in 55. I also loved hearing stories from Esther thru the years. She truly loved "her" Bill. In 54 in New York in a limo on Broadway he told her, "See honey. I told you if you stuck with me I d put you on Broadway " Thanks for remembering Bill Vukovich. Are you in Indianapolis?

AJ Hahn
AJ Hahn

This picture was taken when race car drivers were men and not wearing fancy gold suits on Dancing With The Stars. I do not want to take anything away from today's drivers but they don't make any tougher than Vukovich. I have heard the stories and legends and I wish I could have been there to see it in person. If Bill Vukovich would have lived the record book would have been a lot different. He was one of the greatest. It is sad that we will never know how great he could have been. I bet you Tom Carnigie is calling a race right now that Bill Vukovich is going to win.

Dennis Johansen
Dennis Johansen

Scott G., yeah he was a real bad ass ON the race track. But off the track he was not a"bad ass" but a very quiet man who was always thinking..always in thought. Jim Travers and Frank Coon have told be years ago, in the 60 s, he never complained about his car and if he wasnt up to speed, which rarely happened, he would tell them the car is fine...its just me. That white dress Esther is wearing in the photo was her "lucky dress". She bought a new dress in 1955 to surprise Bill in victory lane. and he knew them both very well. Bill jr is one of the most under rated drivers who ran the speedway.

Steve
Steve

As great as that pic is, I have another favorite one of Bill after his first win in '53 that I like even better. It is also in the garage and he is filthy dirty with his socks half off and a cig in his hand and a 30-mile stare like a soldier right after battle. Next to him is beautiful wife in stark contrast with her immaculate white dress and hat and she is handing him a beer or water with a big smile on her face. My favorite non-action racing pic of all-time. I don't think it was taken by the IMS photo staff though and I rarely see it in print.

Scott Gauger
Scott Gauger

One Bad Man! Would of loved to see more of Bill and his great driving ability. Honored to know his son and God rest his grandson that I got to hang out with at Indy.

Don Anspaugh
Don Anspaugh

Agree and enjoy all the posts and thanks to you Ron for this. Vuky preceded my experience at the Speedway by about 14 years but he is in my pantheon of heroes. Especially then it makes me think of Hemmingway who siad something like theres auto racing, bull fighting, and mountain climbing and the rest are only games...

Dennis Johansen
Dennis Johansen

Arthur: he led 75 pervent of the laps he competed in! No one has ever come close to that record.

Dennis Johansen
Dennis Johansen

After the 53 "500" win the announcer asked Bill about the heat and his reply was..Hot? If you call this hot you should try plowing the field in Fresno in July. He was an iron man. I enjoy telling my own preivate stories about him and seeing the reaction of so many people who thought he was a ruff, gruff guy. In 1964 we were sitting in teh MIlano Inn on the east side of Indianapolis, me, my dad, jack Fox and Donald D and the TV had a blip about Vukovich and that night Donald learned how I felt about Bill. As i wrote before...I used to love to be able to go with my dad months before May when he wud meet Bill at Halls drive in every norning at 6 A.M. for coffee. he orde the bike to strungthen his legs. Bill was pretty much the first driver to do a regular workout routine. Jigger Sirious used to tell me the story about when he was young in the early 50 s how he would see Bill run and vault over a 6 ft chain link fence like it was a gutter. The IRON MAN!!!! So many memoris of the greatest ever at the Speedway. Roger Ward during an interview in the 80s, "Whenever you pulled into the pits and saw Vukovich there you knew you would be running for second."

Racenutdon
Racenutdon

I thought Vuky's right foot was made of LEAD. This photo shows otherwise! The second place driver in '54 was Jimmy Bryan and he was in worse shape physically after the race than Bill. Bryan's car had broken shock mounts and the suspension was just gone. Clint Brawner was Jimmy's chief mechanic and he'd never seen such an effort by a driver to finish a race. Blistered hands, burns, blistered back. Jimmy was in such bad shape that Brawner needed a driver for the Milwaukee race a week later. He found one; VUKOVICH! This is an incredible photo. The best pictures are not staged.

Chris Blackwell
Chris Blackwell

DJ, you're close. 1953 was the hot year when Carl Scarborough passed away, the only driver fatality in Speedway history who wasn't involved in an accident. This picture would be a great subject for Gasoline Alley Unplugged.

DJ Blythe
DJ Blythe

It was so hot in 1954 that one driver died of heat stroke after he got out of his car, & several others took relief drivers...if I have my years remembered correctly, (I was in Kindergarten).

Mike Thomsen
Mike Thomsen

Whenever I show this photo to people, the reaction is always the same, "THAT is the guy who won? What do the other guys look like?"

KJ
KJ

Fantastic. Captures everything in one split second that it takes to win such a marvellous event; one of the world's greatest sporting achievements.

DJ Blythe
DJ Blythe

Thank you Ron! I've seen almost the same expression by Dale Earnhardt crouched against his garage wall during a LONG hot practice session, a month or so prior to one of the late 90's Brickyards. We could not use cameras, and I did not want to bother the man anyway... But I gained a huge amount of respect for him, & the hard work those drivers put in behind the glamour.