Who Is Alan Kulwicki? A Hero To Many, Gone, but Not Forgotten

Brandon CaldwellCorrespondent IMarch 12, 2009

I'm sure you scroll through the list of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions on your favorite Web site.

You probably see Dale Earnhardt's seven championships and skip right over the 1992 season because four of Dale's championships surround 1992.

The name is Alan Kulwicki. I'm sure new age NASCAR fans probably read it and say, "He's probably some guy that just got lucky one year or something!"

Oh, it's much much more than that!

The story I'm about to tell goes against everything a man is taught in life. Never turn down the job of a lifetime, always listen to people in higher places, and get out before things get worse.

This is a story about triumph, disappointment, and determination. It's a story about not giving up on your dream ever, even if it seems like your never going to get out ahead.

Alan Kulwicki grew up in Greenfield, WI. As a kid, he helped his father build engines for the USAC Series and a Winston Cup career seemed far far away.

Alan went and earned a degree in engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Once he graduated, he wasn't sure what he wanted to do, the year was 1983. Alan wanted to drive.

He saw how his degree in engineering would help him understand the physics of a racecar and making it handle better. So he began driving in the USAC Series.

In 1984, Busch Series owner Ed Whitaker was looking for a driver to drive at the Milwaukee Mile. Alan ended up getting chosen.

He finished second, and earned himself another ride at Charlotte, where he finished seventh. He ran two more races for Whitaker and finished 5th at Bristol.

He ran two more races for Whitaker in 1985, and sat on the pole at Milwaukee. That's when Winston Cup Series car owner Bill Terry came knocking.

Alan drove for Terry to finish up the 1985 season. He did exceptionally well. He finished in the top 25 four out of five races for Terry in 1985, and Alan had all of the makings of an up and coming star.

Terry signed Alan to drive full time in 1986. Kulwicki was ready to move to Charlotte to compete full time in NASCAR.

Until, his pickup truck caught on fire and burned to the ground. Alan, could have stopped right there, but he didn't.

He borrowed a pickup truck from a friend, packed up everything he had, and with no more than $100 in his pocket, made the long trip from Wisconsin to Charlotte.

His season started at Rockingham, the third race of the year. Alan ran 14 races for Terry in 1986, and finished in the top 20, ten times and once in the top 5.

Then Terry decided to get out of NASCAR all together. Alan determined to finish what he started, bought the cars from Terry, and continued on in 1986.

Alan began being and owner/driver. He'd carry a brief case through the garage area, and all of his other competitors laughed at him, calling him a dumb Yankee in a brief case.

He ran the next nine races for himself finishing in the top 20 eight times and winning Rookie of the Year honors.

Alan was able to land a new sponsor in 1987. Zerex Antifreeze and he changed his number to No. 7.

1987 was just a regular year for him, three top 10s and no wins.

1988 broke way for Alan's first ever victory, at the first ever race at the Phoenix International Raceway. He did a backwards victory lap and called it the "Polish Victory Lap."

He went winless in 1989 and had one win in 1990.

It was in1990 however that crew chief Ray Evernham left Alan and told him he was crazy to think he could win a championship. Ray went on to crew chief for some young driver in the Busch Series named Jeff Gordon in 1991.

Zerex ended their sponsorship after the 1990 season, and Alan started the 1991 season sponsor less.

It was 1991, when championship winning car owner Junior Johnson wanted to start a second team. Alan turned down Junior's offer saying he wanted to finish what he had started. Junior got frustrated and left very upset with Kulwicki.

Junior said "that boy will never win in his own car!"

When he couldn't secure a sponsor for 1991, he told everyone on his team, including crew chief Paul Andrews that they could leave, and there would be no hard feelings. No one left.

Everyone believed in Alan.

1991 started and Alan finished eighth at Daytona, and 5that Richmond.

He sat on the pole at Atlanta, and a small, six-chained Georgia based restaurant called "Hooters" jump a board.

He finished eighth at Atlanta, and Hooters signed on for the remainder of the 1991 season.

After winning at Bristol, Hooters signed on for 1992.

1992 started out normal. Sports writers were predicting Earnhardt, Elliott, Wallace, and Allison to win the championship. Alan Kulwicki's name was no where to be found.

The 1992 season started off outstanding for Alan. He was right there for the championship, until he wrecked at Dover, and finished 34th.

"It's pretty much over for us," Alan stated walking from his battered Hooters Ford.

Then began the greatest comeback in NASCAR history.

Twelfth, second, 12th, and fourth were the finishing order of Alan's next four races, getting him an outside shot at the championship going into the final race at Atlanta.

The race was fittingly called the "Hooters 500." Alan started 14th, and was hoping to shock the world.

Before the race, Alan took off the "TH" stickers on the front of his car so it spelled "U-N-D-E-R-B-I-R-D." Signaling he was the "underdog" of the championship race.

Alan was second in the standings, 30 points behind leader Davey Allison. 10 points behind Alan was 1988 series champion Bill Elliott.

The race began, and everyone was still counting Kulwicki out.

Until lap 254, when points leader Davey Allison, and Ernie Irvan tangled on the front stretch.

Davey's chances of winning his first championship were gone.

It was down to Junior Johnson's big money race team, and Alan's own race team.

It had been since 1979 that an owner driver had won the championship. No one ever thought it was possible again.

The story of Richard Petty's last start smothered most of the race coverage until he wrecked out of it.

The story was now Kulwicki and Elliott.

Alan's crew chief, Paul Andrews, calculated Alan's fuel mileage perfectly. Leaving him out there just long enough to lead enough laps to beat Bill.

When Andrews told Alan to pit, he stayed out one extra lap, just to make sure. Alan relinquished the lead to Terry Labonte and Terry lead laps until Bill Elliott took the lead from him.

But by the time Bill caught, Terry, there wasn't enough laps left in the race for Bill to pass Alan in the lead lap category.

So Bill just had to hope Alan didn't finish second.

Well, Alan did finish second.

He pulled into victory lane, not only as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion, but as finally equal to all of the other drivers.

He climbed out of the car, and you could see the weight lift off of his shoulders. He smiled, celebrated, and than thanked his team. He never said the word "I" when talking about the championship. He was a true professional.

Once 1993 began, Alan was no longer a dumb Yankee with a brief case. He was now a NASCAR driver.

And that's all Alan ever wanted to be.

Alan had finished in the top 10 three out of the first five races, continuing on in championship form.

I remember waking up for school on Thursday, Apr. 1, 1993.

I went through the day, like normal, but once I got home, my good day quickly went south. My father had told me to turn on CNN. There it was "Defending NASCAR Champion Kulwicki dies!"

Alan was flying his airplane into Bristol's airport, when it crashed into the Bristol Mountains. Alan was gone, and eventually, almost forgotten.

Not by the NASCAR family, though. The No. 7 still races on with another owner/driver Robby Gordon, trying to be like Alan.

Alan has shown me, a college student, that you can in fact achieve your dream, with a little hard work and determination, anything is possible.

So the next time you scroll down the list NASCAR Champions, stop, and look at 1992. Think of this story, and realize, it's much more than just some guy that got lucky!!!!

Thanks Alan.


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