Ten years later, memories of Bristol still sting
Last Updated: March 27, 2003
Remember the scene?
On a foggy morning nearly 10 years ago, the transporter carrying a car Alan Kulwicki would never drive again makes a slow lap and then pulls away from Bristol Motor Speedway with sickening finality.
For his fans, there might be no more haunting memory of the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup champion.
"That was our track," said Peter Jellen, who drove the transporter that day. "That was Alan Kulwicki's racetrack.
"The hardest turn in racing is pulling the right-hander out of that racetrack. That car should have been there. It belonged there. Unfortunately, with what happened, it didn't need to be there."
Kulwicki, the owner-driver from Greenfield, would have been the defending champion of the race, but on Thursday night of the race weekend, he and three other men were killed in a plane crash on approach to the Tri-Cities Airport in Kingsport, Tenn.
Without their leader, and in no shape to compete, Kulwicki's shaken teammates made the only logical choice, to leave Bristol.
Gradually, after the truck pulled away on that morning of April 2, the team split up.
Today, many of its members remain in racing. These days Jellen works for Joe Gibbs Racing, where he was part of a championship team once again as the gas man and truck driver for Bobby Labonte.
Still, every time he drives into Bristol, Jellen's mind is flooded with memories. Thankfully, time has dulled their edge.
"Somebody sent me a picture of the truck going around, and the flagman was doing the checkered flag. I love that," said Jellen, who keeps it in his "race room" along with a few mementos Kulwicki gave him from the championship.
"Is it morbid? No. That's part of life. We helped Alan reach his dream, and he helped us get ours."
A group of fans is planning a remembrance of Kulwicki on the 10th anniversary of his death, beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Greenfield Hooters, 7700 W. Greenfield Ave.
More information can be found on the www.frontstretch.com web site.
The last to go
You probably never have heard of Sammy Packard, but he was a racing pioneer, nonetheless.
Packard, who died Sunday at age 83, had been the last surviving participant in the meeting that led to the formation of NASCAR, a December 1947 stock-car summit organized by Bill France at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Packard, a racer from Rhode Island who traveled south to compete on the beach course in the 1930s, didn't have much to say at that meeting, he told the Daytona Beach News-Journal in February.
"I ended up being the representative of the New England area, which was nothing, because there was no NASCAR up there and I was the only person who knew about it," he said.
A series of warning lights, similar to those used for airport runways, have been embedded in the asphalt in each corner of the Texas Motor Speedway oval and could be used this weekend if NASCAR chooses.
The lights are directional, making them appear bright to the drivers but going unnoticed by most fans, and are placed in a driver's field of vision in each turn.
On the mend
Gil de Ferran suffered a minor fracture in his back when he crashed in Phoenix last weekend, and he'll be out of Indy Racing League action for at least four weeks.
Alex Barron will fill in with Team Penske in Japan next month.
View from the top
Matt Kenseth moved to the top of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series standings for the first time three weeks ago, and he's extended his advantage in each race since.
"It's early to worry about points," the Cambridge native said, "but it sure is nice to be running this good, so I'll enjoy it while we have it."
You go, girl
Tina Gordon, who drives in the Craftsman Truck Series for Ashland's Bob and Shelly Brevak, has taken the lead in the rookie-of-the-year standings with two top-20 finishes in the first three races.
NASCAR has suspended John Monsam, crew chief for John Wood in the Craftsman Truck Series, for the next two races and fined him $1,500 for use of an unapproved front spring discovered by inspectors last weekend. . . .
The company co-owned by Indy-car team owners John Menard and Eddie Cheever has purchased the British-based TWR Engines. . . .
Before even turning a wheel, the part-time Busch Series team co-owned by Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly has already switched drivers, dumping Clay Rogers and replacing him with Mike McLaughlin.
Call Dave Kallmann at (414) 224-2537 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
© Copyright 2003, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved.
Journal Sentinel Inc. is a subsidiary of Journal Communications, an employee-owned company.