weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway emotions were at
opposite ends of the spectrum.
There were those
who were remembering the 10th anniversary of the death
of Alan Kulwicki.
And there were those who were
trying to celebrate NASCARís 2,000th Winston Cup
In both cases, neither side did a very good
Itís difficult to believe itís been almost
10 years since NASCAR lost one of its brightest
Less than five months after winning the
Winston Cup championship, Kulwicki died in a plane crash
shortly before he was to arrive at Tri-Cities Regional
Airport. It was April 1, 1993, and Kulwickiís future
"Thereís no way it seems like
10 years," said Paul Andrews, Kulwickiís crew chief at
the time, prior to the Food City 500. Andrews now is the
crew chief for Jeff Burton and was working for Dale
Earnhardt, Inc., when Dale Earnhardt died in a last-lap
crash in the Daytona 500 a couple of years
"It still hurts," Andrews said of Kulwicki.
"Iíve lost family members and, to this day, that was the
toughest loss in my life."
Kulwicki, the last
owner-driver to capture the title, was looking forward
to big things. But something went wrong on the plane
heading to the Tri-Cities from Knoxville, Tenn., where
he had attended an autograph session at Hooters, sponsor
of his No. 7 Ford team. Kulwicki, Hooters executive Mark
Brooks, sports marketing director Dan Duncan and pilot
Charlie Campbell never made it. There were no survivors.
Hooters now sponsors owner-driver Brett Bodine
in the No. 11 Ford Taurus. Bodine paid tribute to
Kulwicki with and emblem on the hood of his car with the
four names of each of those who lost their life. Brooks
is the son of Hooters founder Bob Brooks.
wasnít on the plane because the teamís performance
hadnít been up to par.
"Our pit stops were not
where we thought we needed to be and we elected to stay
back at the shop and do pit-stop practice," he said.
"We were going to get to Bristol about the same
time. "It saved our life."
As word of the crash
circulated, speculation began to spread. When it was
learned that a driver might have been on the plane, the
phone lines began to buzz. Dale Earnhardt was scheduled
to land around the same time.
Wayne Estes, vice
president for communications-events for Bristol Motor
Speedway, was working for Ford as its Winston Cup
publicist at the time. He was at the Garden Plaza Hotel
in Johnson City, Tenn., waiting to watch the late sports
show on television. Thatís when WCYB, the Bristol NBC
affiliate, aired an alert saying a plane had
"My first thought was, ĎThursday night
before practice starts; I know somebody on that
airplane,í " Estes said. "But we didnít have any idea
who it was."
When the 11 oíclock news came on,
footage of the crash site was shown.
recognized the plane," Estes said.
Don Hawk, former general manager for Alan Kulwicki
"He said, ĎAlanís on that plane,í "
Estes said. "He knew. It was the worst possible feeling
I could have."
It was the worst possible feeling
Peter Jellen, transport driver for the Kulwicki team,
could have had, too.
"It just doesnít seem like
10 years, does it?" said Jellen, now the driver of the
team hauler for Joe Gibbsí No. 18 Interstate Batteries
Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
"Ever wonder what Alan
might be doing now? He would have been 48. I figure he
would be the owner of a two-car team with drivers like
"You listen to Newman on the radio
and he and Alan thought just alike."
Kulwicki and Newman are college graduates with
There wasnít as much
certainty about NASCARís 2000th race being the
Seems the historians and NASCAR donít
Bob Latford, one of the sportsí professed
historians, said he and several others met a year ago
with NASCARís Jim Hunter and agreed on several things
that were pending the approval of bill France
Latford agreed with [ital]Charlotte (N.C.)
Observer[ital] motorsports writer David Poole that the
Food City 500 on the afternoon of March 23 was to have
been the 2000th. Evidently, NASCARís record books donít
Why is it so hard for NASCAR, with all
its resources, to remember if this was its 2,000th race
or not Ö
Itís for certain this was the race
marking the 10th anniversary of Alan Kulwickiís untimely
Much has changed in the 10 years since
Kulwickiís been gone. But, for plenty of people, Alan
Kulwicki will never be forgotten.