Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Fast Facts Redux: Alan Kulwicki

1992 Cup Series champ Alan Kulwicki
credit: NASCAR Media

On the heels of what was one of the most epic championship battles in NASCAR, the 1993 NASCAR Cup Series season was one of the most tragic in series’ history, as it lost two of its rising stars, including its reigning champion, in separate aviation accidents just months apart. April 1, 2018 marked the 25th anniversary of 1992 Cup Series champion Alan Kulwicki’s death – here are a few Fast Facts on the driver who did it his way, originally published in March 2013.
  • Alan Dennis Kulwicki was born Dec. 14, 1954 in Greenfield, Wisconsin. He began karting at age 13, then moved into stock cars on dirt ovals in Wisconsin, and later into late models. After graduating from the University Wisconsin – Milwaukee in 1977 with a mechanical engineering degree, Kulwicki began racing on asphalt tracks in the area and wrapped up track championships at Slinger Super Speedway (1977) and Wisconsin International Raceway (1979 and 1980); in 1979 and 1980, he also competed in regional and national events on the American Speed Association (ASA) circuit as well as in USAC Stock Cars through 1985.
  • In 1984, Kulwicki competed in his first NASCAR races in the Busch Grand National Series (now Xfinity Series); in 1985, he made his first Cup Series start. In 1986, he competed full-time in the Cup Series with support from team owner Bill Terry; after Terry pulled his support from the team mid-season, Kulwicki fielded his own team, often working as a one-man show as driver, owner, crew chief and mechanic. He had some trouble keeping help from race to race as he was known for being demanding (Ray Evernham only lasted six weeks with Kulwicki), but with just two full-time crew members, one car and two engines, Kulwicki was named 1986 Rookie of the Year, competing in 23 of the season’s 29 races and finishing 21st in points.
  • After finishing 15th in points in 1987 and winning three poles, Kulwicki won his first Cup Series race in 1988 in the second-to-last event of the season at Phoenix; instead of the conventional victory lap, Kulwicki turned his car around to honor the fans with a “Polish victory lap.” Kulwicki was approached by the legendary Junior Johnson to drive for his team in 1990 and again in 1991, but Kulwicki turned him down both times.
  • Kulwicki gained Hooter’s as a sponsor on his No. 7 Ford Thunderbird during the 1991 season, initially as a one-race deal after the driver they sponsored missed the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway; after Kulwicki’s eighth-place finish in the race, the sponsorship became a long-term one. That deal continued into 1992, when Kulwicki and his “Underbird” weren’t even considered contenders for the championship. That season, Kulwicki took the championship by just 10 points over Bill Elliott, overcoming a 278-point deficit with just six races remaining in the season; he was the last owner-driver to win the title until Tony Stewart won the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2011. Members of that championship-winning crew included crew chief Paul Andrews and future Cup Series crew chiefs Tony Gibson and Brian Whitesell.
  • On April 1, 1993, while returning to the Tennessee area for the weekend race at Bristol, a small plane carrying Kulwicki and three others went down before its final approach to the Tri-Cities Regional Airport near Blountville, killing all on board.
  • Kulwicki may have left the racing world too soon, but his impact is still felt. In 2015, the Alan Kulwicki Driver Development Program was founded; current Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity Series driver Ty Majeski was the inaugural winner of the trophy. Other winners were Alex Prunty (2016) and Cody Haskins (2017). Kulwicki is also nominated again for the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class, after tying Ron Hornaday Jr. for the nod in 2018; Hornaday was voted in during a head-to-head vote.


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