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Alan Kulwicki Hooters NASCAR

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1992 Winston Cup Championship Underbird Alan Kulwicki Hooters NASCAR
This is the story of how Larry and Pam Bean acquired and restored the 1992 Alan Kulwicki Hooters #008 Championship racecar, known as the "UNDERBIRD".
1992 Winston Cup Championship Underbird Alan Kulwicki Hooters NASCAR

The work was done in stages, and I spent 2-3 weeks at a time up in Charlotte in my camper. I went back to Daytona in between and first I sold the 1955 T-bird I had restored. We needed more money for the "UNDERBIRD" restoration. Then, again back to Charlotte for more work. Once again I came back to Daytona, and this time I sold both my '36 Chevy Coupe vintage racecar, and a 1977 Winston Cup Monte Carlo I had begun to restore earlier. I was now focused on the restoration at hand, and it became almost an obsession of mine to bring this car back to life in honor of Alan's memory. As time passed, all of us who worked on the car became more and more dedicated to the exacting details. This restoration would be authentic in every detail!

Danny Cameron, who had been Alan's spotter and one of the team mechanics, acted as a liaison between me and the team. I kept a list of questions as they came up during the stages of the restoration, and Danny would get the answers. Once they became aware of what I was trying to do, all the guys on the #7 team wanted to see that the car was done right. This was the only real AK owned, Hooters sponsored car to be restored...and the fact that this was the Championship car made it that much more special to all of them. This was becoming a much bigger deal than Pam and I thought it was going to be. But, we knew that when it was finished we were going to be proud to show it anywhere.

During the body work phase, I worked on the car by day, Bill worked on it at night... and Alan's Chief Engine Builder, Danny Glad, helped me piece together the engine at Bodine's engine shop. The original plan was to build a typical showcar engine, consisting of a junkyard block and heads, and old race engine dress-up parts. Then, one day when I was working at the engine shop, I went out to lunch with the team members, and Gary Preziosi, who does testing and keeps the engine records, mentioned that the original engine block Alan had raced at Atlanta might still be around the shop.
Original Block & Heads
Original Block & Heads
Fortunately, the guys are like pack rats, and sure enough, there it was sitting in a pile of old blocks in a corner of the shop. Then Gary started to look for the original heads."Don't even look for the heads", I said...because I just knew that I couldn't afford to put the original heads on this engine! Even old race heads are big bucks. But, Gary found the heads. They were still being used on an engine in a car the team was using for pit crew practices. This brought us back to square one with our engine plan. We were committed to doing this car up right...so. in spite of the additional cost, and the extra time it would take, now that we knew the original block could be restored with the original heads...we just had to put this engine in the "UNDERBIRD". This engine would be one of the most important aspects to the legitimate authenticity of this project. It was the most expensive part of the restoration, but as we look back on it, it completed the "UNDERBIRD" and was a neccessity in order to bring this historic racecar back to life again.

Gary Preziosi later told me the story of the motor. This was not the original motor the team planned to race in that Championship Atlanta race. This was the back-up motor. The original motor was used in a test session and, with a handful of laps left, it blew a connecting rod. There was a manufacturing flaw which would have been undetectable during the freshening up stage to make it race-ready...and had it been raced, it would have blown...and Alan's chances of clinching the Championship would have gone with it! So, the "back-up" engine was used instead...and that was the engine we were now going to put back into the car.

Alan's shop foreman, Jeff Buice, had put the decals on the car for the 1992 Atlanta Hooter's 500 race. He offered to do it again for us in November 1994, once the car was painted. The morning after the car was decaled most of the guys from Alan's old crew came over to see the car at Dave Rezendes' shop, where I had moved the car for the finishing touches. I hadn't thought about how much this project meant to the team, but, the emotion they all expressed was touching. To say that there might have been a wet eye or two just wouldn't describe it. Even the canteen truck lady sniffed back a tear as she ran her hand over Alan's name on the roof of the car. She recalled that the day that Alan won the Championship was one of the happiest days of her life. I was really proud when one of the guys said the car looked better than when they sent it to Atlanta for Alan.

We couldn't put the engine in the car until the heads were taken out of service, so, after the car was decaled, I loaded it up on my trailer and brought it back to Daytona. I could do some of the detail work in our home garage. A year had gone by since we started the restoration, and at this point the car looked done... and probably could have been "shown"... but I wanted to wait until the drivetrain was finished. So, I kept plodding along with the details.

Milling Piston Heads
Original Glovebox

Among the pile of original parts for the car that Cal had put aside for us was the steering wheel, seat and seatbelts, and a glovebox. I hadn't known about Alan's glovebox, but, the other Winston Cup drivers knew about it, and used to kid him, because he always wanted to have a comb and his sunglasses ready at the end of each race. Bill Elliott didn't overlook that at the 1992 Awards Banquet when he jokingly presented Alan with a 'gold' comb!

The driver's seat was old and the upholstery was torn. I was going to keep it original, but, the more I learned about Alan from the team, and knew how fussy he was about his equipment, I decided to have it patched so it would look good. I took it apart and I could see where Alan himself had added roll bar padding scraps to make the seat more comfortable. When I picked up the seat foam, I was taken by surprise to find a small medal glued to the seat in the corner. It was an old worn-down St.Christopher Medal St. Christopher medal. It gave me goose-bumps... to think that this was Alan's good luck charm... still in it's original place in his race seat. I thought that it might have sentimental meaning to Alan's family, so I called Cal to tell him of my discovery, and to ask him if I should send it to Alan's Dad. When I started to explain, Cal interrupted me and said, "...and you found a St. Christopher medal..." He went on to tell me that Alan would not drive a racecar without having a St. Christopher medal with him. Cal then told me a story that took place at a Charlotte race. Alan had qualified towards the rear of the top ten. It was Cal's job to do the last minute tucking in of the window net on pit row and as Alan was strapping in, he fished around for his St. Christopher medal and couldn't find it. He hollered to Cal over the roar of the engine, "Cal, I can't find my St. Christopher medal... there's one in my briefcase... do you know the combination? ...it's in the pits!" Cal said that everyone knew the combo... it was 7 7 7. NASCAR was waving the cars to start and they were rolling as Cal came running back to pit row and threw the medal to Alan in the car. At about 50 laps into the race Alan got into an incident and spun the car 360 degrees...he didn't hit anything. After recovering from the spin and getting himself sorted out, Alan got on the radio to Cal and said, "You see why I needed that medal?" After hearing that story, I decided that the medal belonged with the car... and it remains undisturbed... where I found it.

Back in Daytona, we prepared the 008 for her drivetrain. While Bodine's team was in Daytona testing for the 1995 Daytona 500 I had the opportunity to get more information to help in the detail of the car from Crew Chief Paul Andrews and Danny Glad. The time spent waiting for the engine phase was put to good use making several more changes, bringing the car closer to original. One detail that I learned was that Alan had a little Mighty Mouse on the racecar's dash that matched the one on his uniform. Another detail was that he always put a small stick-on clock on the dash so that he could tell what time it was during the race.

In June 1995, I loaded the camper, the trailer, the 008 car, and enough provisions for the duration, and told Pam I was heading North to Charlotte to stay until the drivetrain was done. Dave Rezendes was now the crew chief and part-time driver for the Bodine Racing Supertrucks and he let me stage the car in amongst the trucks in his shop. I really had to wait my turn to get the help I needed from the engine crew now. We were in the middle of a race season and these guys were extremely busy trying to bring us...the race fans...an exciting racing effort!

Danny Glad made arrangements for Craig Hibdon, one of the engine builders, to help me assemble the engine. Craig is a real meticulous guy, and did a heck of a job.
Milling Piston Heads
Piston Heads Milled
For the Championship race at Atlanta the engine peaked at greater than 700 HP... but, Craig had me mill the pistons pretty flat to knock the compression out to help reduce it to 500 HP to add longevity to the engine for our purposes. He sent me over to the Holman-Moody machine shop with an old cam and some new specifications. I can't let it be overlooked here that it's a real race fan's dream to be able to walk around a Winston Cup shop like he belonged there. Geoff Bodine deserves a big thank you for being trusting and tolerant of me making myself at home in his multi-million dollar facility. Whenever I saw Geoff at the shop he took the time to be cordial.

This phase was more time-consuming than anticipated so, when the #7 team headed South to Daytona for the Pepsi 400 in July, I secured all my stuff and caught a ride down to Daytona and back with one of the parts trucks. This gave me a chance to bring Pam up to date on the progress of the project, do my laundry, and mow the lawn.

Well, persistence prevailed and I got the drivetrain in. By this time Dave Rezendes had really begun to pay close attention to what I was doing. He became more of a stickler for authenticity and detail that I was! Among many other things he insisted I do over again, was to change every oddball nut and bolt I had sneaked into the car to the Bowman brand... I mean every nut and bolt... Dave set the car up for me and said, "Well, go drive it and see if it'll run". I'm a graduate of Fast Track Driving School, and would love to have test-driven it myself first...But I told him to drive it, because he knew what it was supposed to feel like. And, I didn't. If you're not familiar with the Charlotte complex, there are roads all around the back of the track where the shops are located. Dave warmed it up and disappeared. I couldn't see him but I sure could hear the car. He brought it back in about 20 minutes and said, "Larry, the car's good for at least a 100 (MPH) parade lap. You need to put in a softer set of brake pads (she doesn't want to stop). Now let me help you load this car so you can move back home!"

Alan Kulwicki Memorial Park
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The car is finished now...almost two years from start to finish. It has been a labor of love...with more attention to detail than anyone, except maybe Dave Rezendes, will ever know. In July of 1996 we brought the "UNDERBIRD" to Wisconsin where we were able to help with the fundraising efforts for the Alan Kulwicki Memorial Park. The car was featured in local radio and television promotional spots for the second annual "7K Fun Run/Walk" which was held at the Milwaukee Mile. The story of our restoration was printed in the local papers. We participated in a whole week of fundraising events. We made the car available at several locations for photo shoots with the fans (sponsored by Kodak and Walgreens) and on display for Alan's devoted fans to admire and reminisce about its "glory days" and their local hero's Winston Cup Championship.

Larry Bean
Larry Bean Driving
The Underbird

Click for Audio
On July 5th, we were honored to meet Alan's parents, Jerry and Thelma Kulwicki, who rode in the Pacecar at the Milwaukee Mile and I drove the "UNDERBIRD" to lead the first lap of the 7K Run around the Milwaukee Mile.

7K Fun Run
7K Fun Run
In all, the fundraising events brought in about $50,000 towards the completion of the Memorial Park. We were overwhelmed by the interest shown in the car, and the emotion displayed by Alan's fans, who expressed their appreciation for our bringing Alan's car back to life and especially for bringing it there to Wisconsin for them to see firsthand. Some of these fans were there from the beginning of Alan's career at the local tracks, and we heard story after story of their support of Alan's dream. Many had been touched by Alan's tenacious struggle for perfection in the demanding world of stock car
Milwaukee Mile
racing...and they were devastated by the tragic loss of their hero. We were grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in this fundraising and to meet these wonderful fans. They treated us like celebrities for the entire week, and we felt the love and admiration that they were unable to give to their too soon departed hero, Alan Kulwicki.These fans knew his struggles, and his hardships, and they followed his career from rocky beginnings to its championship ending. They admired our attention to detail and the authenticity involved in the restoration, and some even helped us with the history of the car with even more minute details that, despite all the research, we had missed.

After the fundraising events were over, we were invited by the Milwaukee Mile to do a parade lap at the Busch Grand National race the following day. This was the most exciting and emotional part of the week. I fired up the "UNDERBIRD" in front of about 35,000 cheering (yet teary-eyed) race fans.. and drove amidst thunderous applause...a "Polish Victory Lap", in Alan's honor. That one lap made all the money, and all the work, and all the time put into this car worthwhile!

Pam and I had hoped to be able to bring the "UNDERBIRD" back to some of the Winston Cup tracks where Alan drove it into stockcar racing history. But, learning a little more about how NASCAR works, we realized that it is corporate sponsorship that makes this sort of thing happen...and, that since this car is privately owned, and not sponsored by Ford or Hooters or any other sponsor as it was when it was part of AK Racing, this might not happen. We feel that the car should be available to Alan's fans...so, we currently have the car on loan to North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame Museum in Mooresville, NC, where it can be viewed by race fans visiting this area. We hope the future of this car could include a permanent home in a setting that would allow it to be displayed as a fitting tribute to honor Alan Kulwicki's Championship spirit.

Larry and Pam BeanThis was the story of the "Larry and Pam owned, fully restored, Alan Kulwicki Hooters Ford Thunderbird Championship #008 racecar, the "UNDERBIRD"! (We managed to get that all in... in one deep breath... just as the drivers do to please their sponsors when they get their few seconds in front of the camera during a race). We're proud to say that we were very fussy with this restoration...and that it is as authentic in as many details as was possible. We put the "UNDERBIRD" back to the way it looked on that day in Atlanta at the Hooters 500... The day Alan Kulwicki's dream came true... and he became a champion that race fans everywhere admired.

We restored his racecar...we preserved racing history
...and we're proud to say...We did it Alan's way.

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