Remembering Alan Kulwicki
December 14, 1954 – April 1, 1993

by Mary Siegel

(April 2, 2002) - It is hard to believe it has been nine years since NASCAR lost one of it’s up and rising stars.  Alan Kulwicki was a native of Greenfield, Wisconsin with an engineering degree from Polish decent.  He was not your typical redneck driver.  He was the 1986 Raybestos Rookie of the Year and went on to win the 1992 Winston Cup Championship.  On April 1, 1993, Alan along with Hooter’s executive, Mark Brooks (son of owner, Robert Brooks), sports marketing director Dan Duncan and pilot Charlie Campbell crashed in the Hooter’s company plane in Blountville, Tenn., en route to Bristol Motor Speedway for the spring Bristol race.

Recently, there have been many things that have brought Alan’s memories to my thoughts.  As I watched the races at Darlington and Bristol, it was so nice to once again see the Hooter’s logo represented again.  Brett Bodine has joined forces with Robert Brooks to run the Hooter’s car.  Robert Brooks will be part owner with Brett Bodine.  How fitting it is for a Bodine (also with an engineering degree) to be driving the Hooter’s car since it was his older brother, Geoffrey Bodine who purchased Alan Kulwicki Racing after Alan died.  How ironic for Brett to take on Hooter’s as his sponsor for the remainder of the season at the very race Alan was on his way to when he lost his life.

ESPN Classic has also been playing races recently reflecting on Alan’s career.  A few weeks ago, they played the 1988 Checker’s 500: Alan’s first career win.  After winning the race, Alan did a u-turn then drove the car clockwise around track, naming this lap, “The Polish Victory Lap.”  After each of his four wins, he repeated this type of victory lap which is now done in “Alan Style” by many drivers including Rusty Wallace when he won the Bristol race Alan was on his way to compete in when he died.

The most memorable race in Alan’s career has to be the 1992 Hooter’s 500.  Going into the race, Alan was in third place and considered the underdog to win the championship.  With special permission from Ford, he requested to remove the “TH” from the front spoiler and replaced it with a Mighty Mouse decal along with the lettering renaming the car “UNDERBIRD.”  She saw her last race with Geoffrey Bodine at Dover in September of 1993.  The car was involved in a crash and put up for sale.  Fortunately, Larry and Pam Bean purchased the “Underbird” and restored her to her reigning beauty from the famous 1992 race.  Many of the employees of Alan Kulwicki Racing assisted in the restoration.  You can read more about the “Underbird” on their website (http://www.underbird.com/).

Going into the 1992 Hooter’s 500, five drivers were eligible for the championship included points leader, Davey Allison, Bill Elliott, Alan Kulwicki, Mark Martin and Kyle Petty.  This is truly one of the most memorable races in NASCAR history.  It was Richard Petty’s last race and Jeff Gordon’s first race.  Richard stated he wanted to finish the race in a “Blaze of Glory,” however; the fiery crash was not what he had in mind.  Richard went on to finish the race and got his glory, but Jeff fell out late in the race. Davey only needed to finish fifth place or better, but two separate wrecks took Davey out of contention. With less than 20 laps to go, the championship race was down to Bill and Alan.  It was realized if Alan won the race, the championship would go to Bill Elliott because it would tie the points and Bill had won the most races for the season.  However, if Bill won the race, Alan would win the championship by merely ten points due to leading the most laps in the race.  Alan pitted for a splash of fuel and Bill remained on the track. 

The intensity of watching this race was more than the fans could even imagine as it unfolded before their very eyes.  Bill pitted a few laps later, but he came back out onto the track still in the lead and won the race, but Alan had won the war by becoming the 1992 Winston Cup Champion.  With Alan’s championship, he was the first owner/driver to win the championship since Richard Petty in 1981.  To this day, no other owner/driver team has won the championship.

We will never know where Alan would be now had he not been taken away from us so soon.  How many more championships would have he won?  How would have he changed what NASCAR is now?  We can only imagine there is a great race going on in heaven right now with Alan, Davey Allison, Neil Bonnett, Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Dale Earnhardt racing for the Heaven’s Gates Championship.  God Speed, Alan, you are greatly missed by all.

 

 

 

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