Bill Vukovich III, grandson of a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and himself the only third-generation Indy 500 driver, was killed yesterday while practicing for a California Racing Association sprint car race at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif.
Vukovich, 27, was warming up the car before time trials when he crashed in the third turn of the high-banked half-mile oval.
"It appeared that when he hit the brakes, the car went straight into the wall," said Frank Lewis, CRA president. "He hit the wall head on. The car was damaged so badly we may never know what happened."
Vukovich, who lived in Coarsegold, Calif., near Fresno, was not a regular CRA driver, but he had entered the Mesa Marin race because it was a track on which he had won several races.
He drove in the last three Indy 500s. In 1988, he finished 14th and was named Rookie of the Year, an honor his father, Bill Jr., won in 1968. Bill Vukovich III finished 12th in 1989 and 24th last May.
His grandfather, Bill, won the 1953 and 1954 Indy 500s and was leading in 1955 when he was killed in a multi-car accident. Last Thursday night at Los Angeles' Ascot Park, Bill Vukovich III accepted a plaque honoring his grandfather as a new inductee in the Midget Racing Hall of Fame.
"I never knew my grandfather. I was born eight years after he was killed, but I am proud to be mentioned with him," he said at the ceremony.
Bill Vukovich Jr. drove in 12 Indianapolis 500s before retiring in 1980. He finished second in 1973.
In 1987 Vukovich III won the U.S. Auto Club supermodified championship when he won 12 of 17 races.