Pole Tales: 1953-Vuky Begins His Reign in the Rain

Bill Vukovich entered the 1953 Indianapolis 500 having some  unfinished business. He had led 150 laps in 1952 only to crash with eight laps remaining when a steering arm broke. It was Vukovich’s second race, and he had already impressed Speedway veterans. Troy Ruttman went on to win, becoming the youngest driver to win the race.

Pole Day, May 16, was rained out. It was the first time in the eight years of the Hulman/Shaw era that qualifying had to be postponed. The 1950 race was shortened to 345 miles due to rain.

The next day didn’t look promising either. The track finally dried for qualifying to begin around 2:20, leaving just a little more than three hours to put some cars in the field and determine the pole. Freddie Agabashian had the fastest time at 137.546 mph and Jack McGrath was provisionally in the middle of the front row with a speed of 136.602 mph.

Vukovich went out and turned a blistering 139.147 mile an hour first lap. A fishtail on lap two may have cost him the one lap record. His third lap was the second fastest of the run at 138.739. AS he exited turn four onhis final qualifying lap, a thunderstorm suddenly drenche the front straight. Vukovich wiggled a bit but straightened out the car and completed the run. The rain slowed  his final lap to 137.132. The 138.392 average put Vukovich on the pole. He beat Agabashian’s time by 1.6 seconds.

Vukovich left no doubt in the race as to who would win. He led 195 laps and was one of two drivers who did not n3eed a relief driver in the scorching heat.