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Alan Kulwicki

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Cause of death
Airplane crash

Best finish
1st – 1992

Alan Kulwicki

Racing driver

Alan Kulwicki Alan Kulwicki Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

December 14, 1954Greenfield, Wisconsin (

1992 Winston Cup drivers' and owners' champion

1986 NASCAR Rookie of the YearNamed one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 19982002 inductee in the International Motorsports Hall of Fameinducted in the National Motorsports Press Association's Hall of Fame1997 inductee into Bristol Motor Speedway's Heroes of Bristol Hall of Fameinducted in the Lowe's Motor Speedway's Court of Legends1996 inductee in the Talladega-Texaco Hall of Fame

First race
1985 Wrangler SanforSet 400 (Richmond)

Last race
1993 TranSouth 500 (Darlington)

April 1, 1993, Blountville, Tennessee, United States

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Alan Dennis Kulwicki (December 14, 1954 – April 1, 1993), nicknamed "Special K" and the "Polish Prince", was an American NASCAR Winston Cup Series (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) racecar driver. He started racing at local short tracks in Wisconsin before moving up to regional stock car touring series. Kulwicki arrived at NASCAR, the highest and most expensive level of stock car racing in the United States, with no sponsor, a limited budget, and only a racecar and a borrowed pickup truck. Despite starting with meager equipment and finances, he earned the 1986 NASCAR Rookie of the Year award over drivers racing for well-funded teams.


Alan Kulwicki Throwback Thursday

After Kulwicki won his first race at Phoenix International Raceway, he debuted what would become his trademark "Polish victory lap". Kulwicki won the 1992 Winston Cup Championship by what was then the closest margin in NASCAR history. He died early in 1993 in a light aircraft accident, and therefore never defended his championship. He has been inducted into numerous racing halls of fame and was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers.

Alan Kulwicki Remembering Alan Kulwicki a NASCAR Great Who Truly Did

Kulwicki was known for being a perfectionist and doing things his own way. An engineer by trade, his scientific approach to NASCAR racing inspired the way teams are now run. Despite lucrative offers from top car owners, he insisted on driving for his own race team, AK Racing, during most of his NASCAR career. Described by his publicist as "a real hard type of person to get to know", he remained a bachelor throughout his life.

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Remembering Alan Kulwicki

Early life

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Kulwicki grew up in Greenfield, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee known for its Polish-American neighborhoods, near the Milwaukee Mile racetrack. After his mother died, his family moved in with his grandmother, who died when Kulwicki was in seventh grade. A year later, his only brother died of a hemophilia-related illness. Kulwicki attended Pius XI High School, a Roman Catholic high school in Milwaukee, and received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in 1977. His knowledge of engineering has been cited as a contributing factor to his success as a driver, as it helped him better understand the physics of a racecar. He first raced on local tracks as an amateur while in college before becoming a full-time professional racer in 1980. A devout Roman Catholic, Kulwicki always competed with a Saint Christopher devotional medal in his car.

Early racing career

Alan Kulwicki Alan Kulwicki Wikipedia

Kulwicki began his racing career as a 13-year-old kart racer. His father built engines as the crew chief for Norm Nelson and Roger McCluskey's United States Automobile Club (USAC) racecars. Because his work involved travel, Kulwicki's father was unable to help his son at most kart races, so Kulwicki's resourcefulness was often tested trying to find someone to transport his kart to the track. Even when Kulwicki asked his father for advice, he typically ended up doing most of the work himself. "I showed him how", Gerry Kulwicki said. "And he said: 'Why don't you do it? You can do it better.' And I said, 'Well, if you do it for a while, you can do it better.'"

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Many local-level American racetracks host their own season championships. In Wisconsin, numerous locations held dirt and asphalt short track racing. Kulwicki started racing stock cars at the local level at the Hales Corners Speedway and Cedarburg Speedway dirt oval tracks. In 1973, he won the rookie of the year award at Hales Corners Speedway in the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin, and the next year started racing late models – the fastest and most complicated type of stock cars raced at the local level – at the same track. That season, he won his first feature race, at Leo's Speedway in Oshkosh.

Kulwicki moved from dirt tracks to paved tracks in 1977. He also teamed up with racecar builder Greg Krieger to research, model, engineer, and construct an innovative car with far more torsional stiffness than other late models. The increased stiffness allowed the car to handle better in the corners, which increased its speed. Racing at Slinger Super Speedway, he won the track championship in 1977. In 1978, Kulwicki returned to Slinger; that same year he started racing a late model at Wisconsin International Raceway (WIR), finishing third in points in his rookie season at the track. In 1979 and 1980, he won the WIR late model track championships.

In 1979, Kulwicki began competing in regional to national level events sanctioned by the USAC Stock Car series and the American Speed Association (ASA), while remaining an amateur racer through 1980. When Kulwicki raced against future NASCAR champion Rusty Wallace in the ASA series, the two became friends. Kulwicki's highest finish in the ASA season points championship was third place, which he accomplished in both 1982 and 1985, with five career victories and twelve pole positions.


Kulwicki raced in four NASCAR Busch Grand National Series (now Xfinity Series) races in 1984. At the time, the Busch Grand National Series was considered NASCAR's feeder circuit, a proving ground for drivers who wished to step up to the organization's premiere circuit, the Winston Cup. Kulwicki qualified second fastest and finished in second place at his first career NASCAR race, which took place at the Milwaukee Mile, several city blocks from where he grew up. Later that year, he finished seventh at Charlotte and fifth at Bristol. The following year, Kulwicki placed sixteenth in the season-opening Busch Series race at Daytona. Although he won the pole position at that year's event in Milwaukee, he finished fourteenth because of engine problems. Kulwicki's Busch Series successes caught car owner Bill Terry's eye and he offered Kulwicki a chance to race for him in several Winston Cup events.

In 1985, Kulwicki sold most of his belongings, including his short track racing equipment, to move approximately 860 miles (1,380 km) to the Charlotte area in North Carolina. He kept only a few things; his pickup truck was loaded to tow a trailer full of furniture and tools. An electrical fire two days before he left destroyed his truck, so Kulwicki had to borrow one to pull the trailer. After arriving in the Charlotte area, he showed up unannounced at Terry's shop ready to race. Veteran NASCAR drivers were initially amused by Kulwicki's arrival on the national tour: He was a driver from the northern United States when the series was primarily a southern regional series, he had a mechanical engineering degree when few other drivers had completed college, and, with only six starts, had limited driving experience in the junior Busch Series. Kulwicki was described as very studious, hard working, no-nonsense, and something of a loner. He frequently walked the garage area in his racing uniform carrying a briefcase. Kulwicki made his first career Winston Cup start at Richmond on September 8, 1985, for Bill Terry's No. 32 Hardee's Ford team. That season he competed in five races for Terry, with his highest finish being 13th.

Kulwicki started his rookie season in 1986 with Terry. After Terry decided to end support for his racing team mid-season, Kulwicki fielded his own team. He started out as essentially a one-man team in a time when other teams had dozens of people in supporting roles. Initially the driver, owner, crew chief, and chief mechanic, Kulwicki had difficulty acquiring and keeping crew members because he found it difficult to trust them to do the job with the excellence that he demanded, and because he was hands on in the maintenance of racecars to the point of being a "control freak". He sought out crew members who had owned their own racecars, believing they would understand what he was going through: working long hours and performing his own car maintenance with a very limited budget. Notable crew members include his crew chief, Paul Andrews, and future Cup crew chiefs, Tony Gibson and Brian Whitesell. Future crew chief and owner, Ray Evernham, lasted six weeks with Kulwicki in 1992. Evernham later said, "The man was a genius. There's no question. It's not a matter of people just feeling like he was a genius. That man was a genius. But his personality paid for that. He was very impatient, very straightforward, very cut-to-the-bone." With one car, two engines, and two full-time crew members, Kulwicki won the 1986 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year award. He had competed in 23 of 29 events, with four top 10 finishes, three races not completed (DNF), an average finish of 15.4, and had only one result below 30th place. Kulwicki finished 21st in the Winston Cup points standings for the season.

For the 1987 season, Kulwicki secured primary sponsorship from Zerex Antifreeze and changed his car number to seven. He picked up his first career pole position in the season's third race, at Richmond. Later that season, he again qualified fastest at Richmond and Dover. Kulwicki came close to winning his first Winston Cup race at Pocono, finishing second after winner Dale Earnhardt passed him on the last lap. With nine top 10 finishes, eleven DNFs, and an average finish of 18.2 in 29 events; Kulwicki finished 15th in the Winston Cup points standings for the season.

In 1988, Kulwicki hired Paul Andrews as his crew chief after Andrews was recommended by Rusty Wallace at the 1987 NASCAR Awards banquet. That year Kulwicki won his first NASCAR Winston Cup race in the season's second-to-last race at Phoenix International Raceway after race leader Ricky Rudd's car had motor problems late in the race. Kulwicki led 41 laps and won by 18.5 seconds. After the race finished, he turned his car around and made, what he called, a "Polish victory lap" by driving the opposite way (clockwise) on the track, with the driver's side of the car facing the fans. "This gave me the opportunity to wave to the crowd from the driver's side", Kulwicki explained. Andrews recalled, "He had wanted to do something special and something different for his first win and only his first."

It's been a long road and it's taken a lot of hard work to get here, but this has made it all worthwhile. When you work for something so hard for so long, you wonder if it's going to be worth all of the anticipation. Believe me, it certainly was. And what do you think of my Polish victory lap? There will never be another first win and you know, everybody sprays champagne or stands up on the car. I wanted to do something different for the fans.

He finished the 1988 season with four pole positions in 29 events, nine top 10 finishes including two second-place finishes, twelve DNFs, and an average finish of 19.2. Kulwicki finished 14th in the Winston Cup points standings for the season.

Kulwicki started his own engine-building program for the 1989 season. He had four second place finishes that season and held the points lead after the fifth race of the season. The team dropped from fourth to fifteenth in points by suffering nine engine failures during a sixteen-race stretch in the middle of the season. In 29 races, he had six pole positions, nine top 10 finishes, and finished 14th in season points. The team had a new workshop built during the season.


Junior Johnson, owner of one of the top NASCAR teams, approached Kulwicki at the beginning of the 1990 season to try to get him to replace Terry Labonte in the No. 11 Budweiser Ford. Kulwicki declined, stating that he was more interested in running his own team. He won his second Cup race at Rockingham on October 21, 1990, and finished eighth in points that year, his first finish in the top 10 points in a season. In 29 races, he had thirteen top 10 finishes and one pole position.

Before the 1991 season, Zerex ended their sponsorship of Kulwicki's team. Junior Johnson came calling again, looking for a driver for his revived second team that had last seen Neil Bonnett behind the wheel in 1986. Kulwicki turned down Johnson's $1 million offer thinking that he had secured a sponsorship deal with Maxwell House Coffee. Johnson then went to Maxwell House himself and obtained the sponsorship for his new car, which Sterling Marlin was hired to drive instead. Kulwicki was forced to begin the season without a sponsor, paying all of the team's expenses out of his own pocket. At the opening race of the season, the 1991 Daytona 500, five cars raced with paint schemes representing different branches of the United States military to show support for the American forces involved in the Gulf War. It was the first use of special paint schemes in NASCAR history. Kulwicki's car was sponsored by the United States Army in a one-race deal. After running the second and third races of the season in a plain white unsponsored car, Kulwicki's luck finding a sponsor changed for the better at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

At the time, Hooters was sponsoring a car driven by Mark Stahl, another owner-driver in the Cup series. Unlike Kulwicki, Stahl was a part-time participant who had trouble making races. The Hooters car failed to make the field for the Motorcraft Quality Parts 500 and the Atlanta-based chain, desiring a spot in the race, approached the sponsorless Kulwicki to gauge his interest. The principals agreed to at least a one-race deal, which became a much longer term deal when Kulwicki recorded an eighth-place finish in the race. Later in the season, Kulwicki won the Bristol night race for his third career win. In 29 races, he had eleven top 10 finishes, four poles, and finished 13th in the points.

1992 NASCAR Winston Cup Championship

Kulwicki passed Dale Jarrett with 27 laps left at the Food City 500 race on April 5 at Bristol to take a narrow victory. It was his fourth Winston Cup victory. After that race, he never left the top five in season points. Andrews attributed Kulwicki's consistently strong finishes to the steady performance of newly adopted radial tires throughout their lifespan. He said, "It was hard to control them, and the driver's ability to work with that car during practice in order to get the car set up meant so much more than it ever did." Kulwicki's second victory in the season was at the first race at Pocono. Discounted as a contender for the season championship during the year, Kulwicki was expected to fade from contention. He qualified on the pole position for the Peak AntiFreeze 500 race on September 20 at Dover, but crashed early in the race and finished 34th.

Kulwicki was quite vocal that his 278-point deficit would probably be his undoing, and that the Dover race result would keep him from contending for the season title. He was quoted as saying, "This probably finishes us off in the championship deal." On October 11, Mark Martin had a narrow victory over Kulwicki at the Mello Yello 500 at Charlotte. For the second race in a row, points leader Bill Elliott had problems, which left six drivers within reach of the title with three races left to go. Elliott had problems again at the second-to-last race, and his cracked cylinder head allowed race winner Davey Allison to take the points lead, with fourth place finisher Kulwicki second in season points and Elliott third.

The 1992 Hooters 500, the final race of the 1992 season, is considered one of the most eventful races in NASCAR history. It was the final race for Richard Petty and the first for Jeff Gordon. Six drivers were close enough in the points standings to win the championship that day. Allison led second-place Kulwicki by 30 points, Bill Elliott by 40, Harry Gant by 97, and Kyle Petty by 98 and needed to finish sixth or better to clinch the championship. Kulwicki received approval from NASCAR and Ford to change the "Thunderbird" lettering on his bumper for the race to "underbird" because he felt like the underdog in the contention for the championship. During Kulwicki's first pit stop, the first gear in the car's transmission broke. Andrews said, "We had to leave pit road in fourth gear, because we had broken metal parts in there, and only by leaving it in fourth are you not going to move metal around as much. We could only hope that the loose piece of metal didn't get in there and break the gears in half. We had three or four pit stops after it broke. I held my breath all day long." Allison was racing in sixth place, closely behind Ernie Irvan, when Irvan's tire blew with 73 (of 328) laps left in the event. As a result, Allison ran into the side of Irvan's spinning car and his car was too damaged to continue. Kulwicki and Elliott were left to duel for the title. While leading late in the race, Andrews calculated the exact lap for his final pit stop so that Kulwicki would be guaranteed to lead the most laps and would gain five bonus points. Kulwicki made his final pit stop only after leading enough laps to guarantee the bonus points. To save time, the pit crew did a fuel-only pit stop. Not changing tires allowed them to be available to push the car to prevent it from stalling, since the car had to start moving in a higher gear. Because the team's fuel man hurried to add the gasoline during the quick stop, he did not add the desired amount into the tank. As a result, Kulwicki had to conserve fuel to ensure that his car was still running at the end of the race. Elliott won the race and Kulwicki stretched his fuel to finish second. Kulwicki won the 1992 Winston Cup Championship by maintaining his 10-point lead over Elliott. He celebrated the championship with his second Polish victory lap. Always conscious of his appearance for potential sponsors, Kulwicki combed his hair, making a national television audience wait for him to emerge from his car.

Kulwicki had overcome the 278-point deficit in the final six races of the season by ending with a fifth, a fourth, and two second-place finishes. Kulwicki won the championship because of his consistent high finishes. It was the closest title win in NASCAR Cup Series history until the implementation of the Chase for the Cup format in 2004. Kulwicki was the last owner-driver to win the title for nearly two decades, the first Cup champion with a college degree, and the first Cup champion born in a northern state. The song that played during a short salute to Kulwicki at the year-end awards banquet was Frank Sinatra's "My Way". During the prep work for the banquet, Elvis' version of "My Way" was found, but Kulwicki insisted on Frank Sinatra's version.

Championship honors

Kulwicki returned to his hometown, Greenfield, for Alan Kulwicki Day in January 1993. The gymnasium at Greenfield High School was filled and surrounded by four to five thousand people. Local television crews filmed the event. Kulwicki signed autographs for six hours.

In celebration of his championship, sponsor Hooters made a special "Alan Tribute Card" that was used at all of the autograph sessions during the 1993 season. Kulwicki did not change his spending habits after winning the 1992 championship. "The only thing I really wanted to buy was a plane", he said, "but it turns out Hooters has a couple I can use."


Kulwicki died in an airplane crash on Thursday April 1, 1993. He was returning from an appearance at the Knoxville Hooters in a Hooters corporate plane on a short flight across Tennessee before the Sunday spring race at Bristol. The plane slowed and crashed just before final approach at Tri-Cities Regional Airport near Blountville. The National Transportation Safety Board attributed the crash to the pilot's failure to use the airplane's anti-ice system to clear ice from the engine inlet system.

Kulwicki was buried at St. Adalbert's Cemetery in Milwaukee; the funeral was attended by NASCAR President Bill France, Jr. and numerous drivers. Kulwicki's racecar transporter was driven from the rainy track later that Friday morning while other teams and the media watched it travel slowly around the track with a black wreath on its grille. In 2008, Kyle Petty described the slow laps as "the saddest thing I've ever seen at a racetrack... We just sat and cried." Kulwicki had competed in five NASCAR races that season with two Top 5 finishes, and was ranked ninth in points at his death. In his career, he had won five NASCAR Winston Cup races, 24 pole positions, 75 Top 10 finishes, and one championship in 207 races.

His car was driven by road course specialist Tommy Kendall on road courses and by Jimmy Hensley at the other tracks. It was raced for most of the 1993 season until the team was sold to Geoff Bodine, who operated it as Geoff Bodine Racing.

Kulwicki had been selected to compete in the 1993 International Race of Champions (IROC) series as the reigning Winston Cup champion. He competed in two IROC races before his death, finishing ninth at Daytona and eleventh at Darlington. Dale Earnhardt raced for Kulwicki in the final two IROC races, and the prize money for those races and their fifth place combined points finish was given to the Winston Cup Racing Wives Auxiliary, Brenner Children's Hospital and St. Thomas Aquinas Church charities.


Three days after Kulwicki's death, Bristol race winner Rusty Wallace honored his former short track rival by performing Kulwicki's trademark Polish victory lap. Davey Allison died on July 13, 1993; competitors who had been carrying a No. 7 sticker in memory of Kulwicki added a No. 28 sticker for Allison. After the final race of the season, series champion Dale Earnhardt and race winner Wallace drove a side-by-side Polish victory lap carrying flags for Kulwicki and Allison. Kulwicki finished 41st in the final points standings despite competing in only five races. Seven months after the death of Allison, Neil Bonnett died at Daytona. Racing Champions issued a die-cast version of Alan Kulwicki's No. 7 car that was a tribute to Kulwicki's 1992 title.

The USAR Hooters Pro Cup championship, the "Four Champions Challenge", is named in memory of the four victims of the plane crash. Established in 1997, the challenge is a four-race series, with each race named after one of the four who died in the crash: Kulwicki, Mark Brooks (son of Hooters owner Bob Brooks), Dan Duncan, and pilot Charles Campbell.

Milwaukee County honored Kulwicki in 1996 by creating Alan Kulwicki Memorial Park, located near the corner of Highway 100 and Cold Spring Road in Greenfield (Area Map). Hooters chairman Robert Brooks donated $250,000 to build the 28-acre (0.11 km2) park, which features a Kulwicki museum inside the Brooks Pavilion.

Bristol Motor Speedway named its grandstand in turns one and two in honor of Kulwicki, as well as a terrace above the grandstand. The 2004 Busch Series race at the Milwaukee Mile was named the "Alan Kulwicki 250" in honor of Kulwicki. Wisconsinite Paul Menard turned his car around after winning the 2006 Busch Series event and performed a Polish victory lap to honor Kulwicki. Slinger Super Speedway has held an annual Alan Kulwicki Memorial race since 1994.

Kulwicki was posthumously inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2002. He was inducted in the Lowe's Motor Speedway Court of Legends in 1993, the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993, Talladega-Texaco Hall of Fame in 1996, Bristol Motor Speedway Heroes of Bristol Hall of Fame in 1997, the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2010. Kulwicki has been nominated to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Kulwicki's success as an owner-driver sparked a small trend among NASCAR veterans. Geoff Bodine, his younger brother Brett, Ricky Rudd, Bill Elliott, and Joe Nemechek all began racing teams shortly after Kulwicki's death. However, none were as successful as Kulwicki's. Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart was the only owner-driver in NASCAR currently running the full schedule but retired in 2016, though the team is fully funded by co-owner Gene Haas. . Robby Gordon frequently mentions Alan as an inspiration for him as an owner-driver, and selected car No. 7 as a tribute to Kulwicki.

Slinger Super Speedway began an Alan Kulwicki Memorial night in 1993; it has continued the annual memorial as of 2016. In 2010, the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee created the Alan Kulwicki Memorial Student Center in their Engineering and Mathematical Sciences Building. The center, along with a scholarship for engineering students, was made possible in part by a donation from Thelma H. Kulwicki, the late racer's stepmother, who also donated numerous items of memorabilia located in the center.

In May 2012, the Milwaukee County Historical Society announced plans for a special exhibit celebrating the life and career of Kulwicki to open in early 2013. The exhibit is called "Alan Kulwicki: A Champion's Story".

Alan Kulwicki Driver Development Program

In 2015, Kulwicki's friends began the Alan Kulwicki Driver Development program to "help worthy drivers along the way in reaching their dream...while at the same time keep Alan Kulwicki's memory and legacy alive." The field is narrowed to 15 applicants and the program gives $7777 to support seven drivers' career advancement. Drivers are judged based on their on-track performance as well as off-track activities, social media presence, and community involvement. The winner receives seven times $7777 ($54,439) and a trophy. The program winners were:

  • 2016 Alex Prunty
  • 2015 Ty Majeski.
  • Other finalists in the program:

  • Quin Houff
  • Media

    Father Dale Grubba, the priest who had presided over Kulwicki's funeral, released a biography of his friend entitled Alan Kulwicki: NASCAR champion Against All Odds in 2009. The book was the basis for a low-budget feature film, Dare to Dream: The Alan Kulwicki Story, released on April 1, 2005. The film chronicles Kulwicki's life from racing late models at Slinger Super Speedway, through his rise to NASCAR champion, and ends with his death. The movie was created by Kulwicki's Wisconsin fans for less than $100,000. The star of the film, Brad Weber, was a Kulwicki fan and credits the late driver with being his inspiration to become an actor.


    (key) (Bold – Pole position awarded by qualifying time. Italics – Pole position earned by points standings or practice time. * – Most laps led.)

    Winston Cup Series

    Daytona 500

    International Race of Champions

    (key) (Bold – Pole position. * – Most laps led.)


    Alan Kulwicki Wikipedia