View Full Version : 1955 photo: Stude damaged in fatal Vukovich "500" accident

07-05-2010, 12:13 PM
A friend found this interesting period photo in the comprehensive report of the dramatic 1955 Indianapolis 500 accident that killed popular driver (and "expected" race winner) Bill Vukovich

Note this is a 1953 Commander 4-door with a unique custom paint treatment, but the car was only two years old, max:


Note the signboard on the new F-100 Six also damaged. It references the Mercury dealer at Ninth & Meridian in Indianapolis. Later, that was the location of Charlie Stuart Studebaker, through whom most of the 1962 Daytona Festival and Pace Cars were processed for the 1962 Indianapolis 500.

As Keith "StudHawk60" noted after I posted this, going to that Vukovich Accident website can be riveting! Wow! The author has done an incredible amount of research and is to be commended for his thoroughness and devotion to the incident...but he says early on that Bill Vukovich was (and is) his life-long hero, so this pursuit would be a natural endeavor for him. (Not at all unlike the March 1996 Turning Wheels interview I was able to do on Ted Harbit, I might add!)

Anyway, the Vukovich writer includes text about that 1953 Commander and the man sitting in it when Vukovich's race car tumbled over the front of it! Yipes! (I highlighted the Studebaker mention with bold face):

There were two people injured in addition to the Vukovich death -- both of which were in the Safety Patrol Jeep. Sgt. Richard Wolf of the Indiana National Guard received a broken collar bone (some reports said it was a broken shoulder) and was transported to Methodist Hospital. The steering wheel of the Jeep was reported to be bent over Wolf's body and had to be pried out before Wolf could be removed. The aftermath pictures seem to verify this could have happened. Somehow, the Vukovich car hit in the drivers seat area and in addition to other damage bent the top of the steering wheel and the steering wheel shaft down on Wolf's lap trapping him. The steering shaft broke loose from its mounting and was bent down on Wolf's lap. It apparently took assistance from rescue personnel to get the wheel off him. It seems almost impossible that the crashing car could have come that close to him, maybe actually coming in contact, without killing him. Lt. Charles D. Mollander, also of the Indiana National Guard received a broken ankle. From reports it is safe to assume he was sitting in the passenger seat but the photos do not fully explain how he could have received a broken ankle as all of the damage appears to be in the windshield and drivers seat area. Motorcycle Patrolman Victor Osborn said he was actually sitting on the Patrol Jeep but somehow was not injured. "I was scared stiff" he said.

There were two reports which said the Safety Jeep was hit with a tire, not by the Vukovich car. The first Boyd tire launched flew over the fence and the tire flew in the general direction of the Jeep but wound up near the Studebaker which was up the track South from the Jeep. This one area has received considerable study. There are several reasons why the tire scenario can possibly be ruled out. First, while the damage to the Jeep was less severe than the Studebaker or the Pickup the damage was almost too severe to be caused by a tire. Second, the tire which would have hit the jeep was found behind the Studebaker but it could have, conceivably, bounced back up the track after striking the jeep. Third, the Jeep was in the path and the Vukovich car was in a mode that it could have clipped the jeep much as it clipped the Studebaker and the pickup. It certainly would have taken a very unique set of circumstances for the Vukovich car to clip the jeep as it would have had to and not kill Wolf. This issue is discussed more later.

A couple of reports were of an Army Sergeant injured by a flying wheel. Sid Collins reported on the radio that there were two member of the Safety Patrol and a civilian were injured. While there is no absolute confirmation of this and only one or two references were made, it is possible as two wheels flew over the fence. If there were such an injury to the Army Sergeant it could have been from either tire. Another scenario is that the news reports, while referring to an "Army Sergeant", may have been talking about Richard Wolf of the Indiana National Guard and mistakenly called him the "Army Sergeant".

Paul Colip Jr. of 550 North La Salle in Indianapolis was sitting in the parked Studebaker when it was hit. He said it was the "most terrifying thing I have ever seen". He also said "it happened so fast he didn't have time to get scared." Why Colip was parked where he was, was not explained. The pickup being where it was can be partially explained because it was from the 9th and Meridian Garage. Perhaps it was used as some kind of service vehicle. It had what appeared to be a parking sticker in the window. One fact in which most all people seem to agree on was the speed in which the accident happened. Jess Gilson of the Indianapolis News was stationed near the backstretch bridge and saw Ward lose control but by the time he grabbed a phone Vukovich had already gone over the wall. He even admitted he wasn't sure of his facts because of the speed of the accident and indeed some of them were wrong. According to Gilson Vukie had scraped the side of the abutment before going over the wall but in reality the car went over before the bridge and did not hit it. Gilson also said he believed Vukovich died in the "wild bouncing ride before the fiery explosion" but offered no real substantiation for the claim except for the violence of the crash which some observers thought was non-surviable.

So forewarned is forearmed: If you "go into" that Vukovich Accident website, you'll lose at least a couple hours of your day! BTDT.

The accounts of the Vukovich crash and analysis of Indianapolis Motor Speedway medical team response are of special interest to me. My daughter Kate Marciniec, mother of grandson William in the July Turning Wheels, has been an Indy Racing League Registered Nurse for several years. Kate and her husband Michael, a Certified Flight Paramedic, regularly "work" The Indianapolis 500 as part of the Medical/Safety Team, although Michael is not employed by the IRL proper. Rather, Michael is employed by Ambulance Companies that contract with The Indianapolis Motor Speedway during racing events.

Kate has had the opportunity to fly all over the world as part of the Indy Racing League Medical Team. Kate was in Japan as an IRL nurse at the event where Danica Patrick won that IRL race as the first woman to ever do so a year or so ago. Kate was in Texas just a couple weeks ago, on duty as an IRL nurse at The Texas Motor Speedway(?), when The 2010 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, Simona De Silvestro, was involved in that terrible crash and subsequent fire. Fortunately, Simona suffered only burns to one hand, which Kate treated when the Ambulance Medical Team brought her [Simona] to the infield hospital where Kate was on duty!

Small world. BP

07-05-2010, 01:00 PM
What an interesting web site. Thanks for posting!


If you go to the "audio programs", there is one clip (can't remember which), which the announcer describes the accident. He says that Vukovich hits a "police" looking car first before hitting the truck. This would be the 53 Stude.