By Ryan Smithson April 1,
11:08 AM EST (1608 GMT)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It started out as an innocent
It became an obsession.
Larry Bean, a 57-year-old retired Massachusetts State
Trooper and avid Winston Cup fan, had always restored
classic cars as a hobby.
But Bean didn't stop at restoring 1950s-era
Thunderbirds. He wanted to restore a Winston Cup car,
and in 1993, one became available after Geoffrey Bodine
purchased Alan Kulwicki Racing.
Bodine, who bought AKR after Kulwicki's death in
April 1993, was in the process of updating the team's
fleet of Ford Thunderbirds.
As a result, a four-year-old chassis -- designated
AKR-008 -- went up for sale. Bean bought it and began
restoring the car.
But this just wasn't any ordinary Ford Thunderbird.
This was the car Kulwicki drove at Atlanta Motor
Speedway on Nov. 16, 1992, when he beat Bill Elliott and
Davey Allison for the Winston Cup title.
|The document proving the
Kulwicki had nicknamed that particular car the
"Underbird," a clever moniker that honored his
underfunded, self-owned operation, which was a decided
underdog to the powerful teams of Junior Johnson
(Elliott) and Robert Yates (Allison).
Bean went to work restoring the car with the help of
former Busch Series driver Dave Rezendes, who allowed
Bean to use shop space to store the machine.
The car, now fully restored, sits in the North
Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
To Bean, having the car in Mooresville, N.C. -- 20
miles from the car's birthplace in Concord -- is a
fitting continuation of Kulwicki's memory.
"I am very happy it's there," Bean said. "It'll
really help our goal to keep Alan's memory alive."
Bean has had offers to buy the car -- but he has
rejected them, mainly because they involved using the
car in classic auto races. Bean prefers that the car
remain in a museum-type environment, sale or no sale.
Bean can't even begin to estimate what it has cost to
restore the car -- not that he wants to. The restoration
was so extensive that he even created a website,
underbird.com, to document the entire process.
|Bean took delivery of the
chassis three months after it had been crashed at
"(It cost) a wad of money," said Bean, who sold some
of his classic car collection to pay for the Underbird's
restoration. "At a point I stopped keeping track. I hate
to think about what it really cost."
The biggest expense was the engine. Bean, with the
help of AKR employees, actually located the engine block
that was used in the car when Kulwicki won the title.
Bean even found the original heads that were used on
the car's engine and used those to complete the
restoration. Jeff Buice, one of Kulwicki's body men,
applied decals to the car once the bodywork was
Once the car was finished, several of Kulwicki's
employees wandered over to Rezendes' shop to take a
"I think they were happy to see it," Bean said. "It
was an experience. They were all impressed. There might
have been a couple of them who had emotion."
Bean officially has the car for sale but is not in
any hurry to complete a deal. For now, he is content to
have it in the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
If Bean does sell it, he would prefer the car to
return to Kulwicki's home state of Wisconsin.
"I really want to see someone buy it and (take) the
car to Wisconsin," Bean said. "There is a couple of
small roars trying to get the car back, but it hasn't