1992 NASCAR national champion; 1st college grad and Northerner to win title; NASCAR Rookie of Year in1986; famous for driving car backwards on victory lap; killed at age 38 in plane crash near Bristol, Tenn.
Alan Kulwicki grew up in Greenfield, Wis. He played a mean fullback on his junior high football team, winning MVP honors, before taking up the family business. His father, Gerald, was a legendary engine builder on the U.S. Auto Club circuits. Young Alan, with the help of his father, started a driving career on the Midwest short tracks, winning the Wisconsin track championships four consecutive years, 1977-80. He also earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin in 1977 and worked two years as an engineer while racing as a hobby. He moved to the South in 1985 and ran in five Winston Cup races. After he picked up Hardee's as a sponsor, his career took off. He was the 1986 Winston Cup rookie of the year and won his first Winston Cup race in his 85th start in the 1988 Checker 500 at Phoenix. That's where he introduced the "Polish victory lap," going around the track the wrong way to the delight of the fans. With the solid backing last season of Hooters Restaurants, Kulwicki won the Winston Cup title in a Ford Thunderbird. He won by 10 points over Bill Elliott. Six drivers entered the season-ending race with a chance at the title, and Kulwicki was a surprise winner. He finished second to Elliott in the Hooters 500 at Atlanta but won the championship because he picked up 10 bonus points for leading the most laps. That's how close the season finished, and Kulwicki became the first owner-driver to win the championship since Richard Petty in 1981. "There were a lot of people who thought we couldn't win a championship," he said. "They thought we were too small (a team). Well, I guess this proves we are effective."
Winston Cup Season Recap
CUP STANDINGS (TOP 10)
Rank Driver Points
1. Alan Kulwicki 4078
2. Bill Elliott 4068
3. Davey Allison 4015
4. Harry Gant 3955
5. Kyle Petty 3945
6. Mark Martin 3887
7. Ricky Rudd 3735
8. Terry Labonte 3674
9. Darrell Waltrip 3659
10. Sterling Marlin 3603
As many talented drivers had the NASCAR Winston Cup in their reach, the chase for the championship would not be decided in the final race, but in the final lap.
FIVE RACES TO GO:
Wilkesboro, NC - With five races remaining in the 1992 season, 1988 champion
Bill Elliott led budding star Davey Allison by 112 points and underdog Alan
Kulwicki by 191. Things would tighten up after a trip to North Wilkesboro
Speedway as the caution-free event was won by Geoffrey Bodine. Bodine
lapped points leader Elliott eight times under green. Davey Allison finished in
11th while Kulwicki came in 12th. Elliott's points lead was sliced to 67 over
Allison and 144 over Kulwicki.
FOUR RACES TO GO:
Charlotte, NC - Mark Martin charged past race dominator Kyle Petty then held off a charging Alan Kulwicki for the race win. Martin's dominating performance vaulted him back into title contention. Points leader Bill Elliott struggled again, this time to a 30th-place finish because of a broken sway bar, allowing several drivers within striking distance of the championship. Elliott now led Davey Allison by only 39 points, Kulwicki by 47, Martin by 91, Harry Gant by 94, and Kyle Petty by 106 points.
THREE RACES TO GO:
Rockingham, NC - In the most dominating performance of the season, Kyle Petty continued his sensational second half of 1992 with a convincing win, leading all but eight of the 492 laps. Bill Elliott fought back to finish fourth, ahead of all other title contenders. Elliott found himself 70 points in front of Davey Allison, 85 ahead of Alan Kulwicki, 94 in front of race winner Petty, and 113 points ahead of Harry Gant. Mark Martin struggled throughout the race and dropped from title contention.
TWO RACES TO GO:
Phoenix, AZ - Smoke billowed from Bill Elliott's Budweiser Ford, signaling an opportunity for the other NASCAR Winston Cup title contenders. Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki took full advantage. While Elliott finished 31st with a cracked cylinder head and overheating problems, Allison patiently made his way to the front and won his second consecutive Phoenix race. The emotional victory vaulted him back into the points lead for the first time since August. Kulwicki rac a strong fourth and moved past Elliott in the standings, as well. Heading into the season's final event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Allison led Kulwicki by 30 points, Elliott by 40, Harry Gant by 97, Kyle Petty by 98, and Mark Martin by 113.Six drivers were still alive for the title.
Hampton, GA - A Hollywood scriptwriter could not have penned a more exciting season finale. The Richard Petty Fan Appreciation Tour made its final stop while the battle for the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup title raged on. Davey Allison needed to finish sixth or better to clinch the title, while Bill Elliott and Alan Kulwicki could only run their cars to the limit, hoping it would be enough. On lap 253, Allison's fate would be sealed. Allison was running sixth - good enough to
clinch the title - and moving back to the front when disaster struck. Ernie Irvan's Kodak Chevrolet had a tire go down and he lost control directly in front of Rusty Wallace and Allison. Wallace miraculously avoided the spnning Irvan, but Allison was not so lucky. Allison T-boned Irvan, ending his day, leaving Elliott and Kulwicki to battle for the title. Elliott and Kulwicki ran 1-2 the entire second half of
the race, swapping the lead on several occasions. It became evident that the driver who led the most laps and received the five extra bonus points would win the championship and $1 million bonus from Winston. It would come down to one lap. On lap 310, Kulwicki pitted while leading, knowing he had clinched the bonus by leading 103 of the event's 328 laps. After the fuel-only pit stops, Elliott gained
the lead and drove to his fifth victory of the season. Elliott had led 102 laps. If Elliott had led one lap that Kulwicki did not, then Elliott would have received the five bonus points instead of Kulwicki, which would have left the two in a tie in season's points. In that instance, Elliott would have won the title by virtue of more wins. As it was, Elliott won the Hooters 500, but Kulwicki finished second to win the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup championship by a scant 10 points, the narrowest margin in the sport's history.
Time Goes By (A Tribute to Alan Kulwicki)
So many fans of NASCAR don’t know him except as an entry in a record book. But nine years ago today the life of one of the greatest drivers and perhaps THE greatest inspirational story in NASCAR history ended in a plane crash in northeast Tennessee. Just think back to what you were doing nine years ago to see how much has changed! Time goes by so quickly; it is amazing that it has already been nine years since we lost Alan Kulwicki.
He came to the scene with very little except determination and an incredible ability to drive a racecar. But he left us with a legacy that lives on today! Alan Kulwicki did it his way and soon became a formidable force on the Cup circuit as one of the few successful owner/drivers the sport has seen in the modern era. In this day and age of big money and multi car team dominance we will never again see a story like Kulwicki in our sport. If you ever think the odds are stacked against living YOUR dream think about AK and think again!
Alan came from the town of Greenfield Wisconsin and was a dominant force on the short tracks of the Midwest. But he had a dream to reach the pinnacle of his sport and take on the big names in NASCAR. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Kulwicki knew how to build cars and had an uncanny talent for getting the most out of his equipment. He only won five races during his 207 races at the Winston Cup level, but no one will ever forget his improbable championship in 1992!
Alan started his Winston Cup career in 1985. He had limited success but instantly impressed the cagey old veterans for his knack to get more from less. The great Junior Johnson thought Alan was crazy when Kulwicki turned down Junior’s offer to drive his cars. But Alan had to do it his way or not at all. Securing the sponsorship of the Hooters Restaurant chain finally gave Kulwicki the funding he needed to compete with the big boys and he would make the most of his chance!
The 1992 season was one of the craziest in Winston Cup history. Defending champion Dale Earnhardt was looking to join Cale Yarborough as the only other driver to win three straight championships. Bill Elliott would also be in the title hunt in his first year driving for Junior Johnson. Young gun Davey Allison seemed destined to win his first of what fans were certain would be many championships. Then there was Alan Kulwicki, silently putting together a very consistent season and in the title hunt.
That year's final race at Atlanta Motor Speedway was perhaps one of the most memorable races ever held in NASCAR history. The "King" Richard Petty was in his final race, Jeff Gordon was making his Cup debut, and three drivers were in a close points race on the final day of the season. Davey Allison, Bill Elliot, and Alan Kulwicki all entered the day with a chance to capture the title. Davey was involved in a crash on the front stretch that ended his title hopes but Kulwicki and Elliot dueled all day long. In the end Bill won the race but Alan in his famous Ford Underbird won the points title by 10 points by leading the most laps.
Alan would never get a chance to defend his title and at just 38 years old his best years were ahead of him. But that plane crash would rob us of so much. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Alan Kulwicki’s hauler made a final lap around the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway in his honor. Later that season a helicopter crash would take Davey Allison from us too. Nine years ago today it all seemed like a bad April Fool’s joke. Time goes by so quickly indeed.
Copyright, 2002, Frontstretch Enterprises, LLC
|University of North Carolina at
Office of Public Relations
|May 17, 2002|
UNC Charlotte awards annual Alan Kulwicki Scholarship to Ohio teen
|CHARLOTTE—The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
has awarded its Alan Kulwicki Memorial Scholarship to Josh Sell, a top
academic high-school student and racecar driver from Urbana, Ohio. The
presentation of the 2002 scholarship will be made May 18 at Lowe’s Motor
Speedway, prior to The Winston.
The four-year Kulwicki Scholarship is the highest honor within UNC Charlotte’s Motorsports Engineering program. The scholarship is given in memory of late NASCAR Winston Cup points champion Alan Kulwicki, who lost his life in a plane crash in 1993. Kulwicki was himself an engineer, and a strong supporter of engineering and science education. The William States Lee College of Engineering at UNC Charlotte presents the four-year scholarship to a high-school senior who demonstrates outstanding academic achievement and has an affiliation with auto racing.
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