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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Alan Kulwicki #7 Hooters Ford

    Alan Kulwicki is, in my opinion, the last true champion of NASCAR~ A lot of very talented drivers have attempted to do what he did during the 1992 season, win a NASCAR Cup series championship as an owner/driver, including Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd and Geoff Bodine among others, but no one since has been able to pull it off~ Today, we look back on Alan's career in the Hooters Ford...

    Car owner Junior Johnson tried his hardest to get Alan to drive for him in both the 1990 and 1991 seasons, even offering Kulwicki 1 million dollars to drive one of his cars, Alan declined, thinking he had secured sponsorship for his own team from Maxwell House Coffee, Johnson then went behind Alan's back and secured Maxwell House's sponsorship for his own car, being driven by Sterling Marlin~ This forced Alan to start the season with no sponsor~ He picked up sponsorship from the U.S. Army for the start of the Daytona 500, and then ran unsponsored cars for the following 2 races~

    Kulwicki's first race under the Hooters sponsorship came in the Motorcraft Quality Parts 500 @ Atlanta, where he put the car on the pole, led for 8 laps, and finished in the 8th position~ This was supposed to be a 1 race deal, but due to Alan's good finish, the deal was extended~ I had the privilege of being at the Bud 500 that season, where Alan won his first race for the Hooters team~  Hooters stuck with Alan for the remainder of the season, as well as throughout the remainder of his career~ He finished the 1991 season with 4 poles, 1 win, 4 top 5's, and 11 top 10's, finishing 13th in the final points standings~

 Alan poses in front of the Hooters car in Daytona 1992~
          The 1992 season proved to be magical for Kulwicki~ He sat on the pole for the Food City 500, where he led for 282 laps, and won the race~ However, he was not considered to be a contender for the championship, and was expected to fade from contention~ After winning the Bristol race, Kulwicki was 5th in the points, and he was never lower than 5th for the remainder of the season~ He started 6th in the Champion Spark Plug 500 @ Pocono, and won the race, his second win of the season~ This was to be the final race win for Kulwicki in his career~ The win moved Kulwicki to 3rd in the points standings after 13 events, behind Davey Allison and Bill Elliott~

      Alan remained 3rd in the points for most of the season, until the Peak Antifreeze 500, where he won the pole for the race, but was caught up in an accident on lap 91, resulting in a 34th place finish~  After this race, he was 278 points behind in the points, and was very vocal that this was probably the demise of his championship hopes, being quoted as saying "This probably finishes us off in the championship deal"~

    But in the following race @ Martinsville, Kulwicki posted a 5th place finish, while Bill Elliott's engine expired on lap 158, resulting in a 30th place finish~ Davey Allison also had a poor finish, ending up 16th, as well as Gant, who was 3rd going into the event, finished 19th~ Alan had cut Bill Elliott's lead down to 191 points~

                                                 Alan Kulwicki's "Underbird car" 1992~
Alan Kulwicki #7 Hooters Racing Champions 1/64 NASCAR diecast blog die age

    The following race was @ North Wilksboro for the Tyson/Holly Farms 400, where Elliott again had a poor running, resulting in a 26th place finish, while Allison finished 11th, and Kulwicki, who had won the pole for the race, finished in the 12th spot~ Alan was now 144 points back from Elliott in the points standings~ He again won the pole for the following race, the Mello Yello 500 @ Charlotte, leading 63 laps, and finished 2nd to Mark Martin~ Elliott had sway bar problems, which knocked him back to finishing 30th, while Allison finished 19th~ This put Kulwicki just 47 points back from Elliott in the points standings with just 3 races remaining~

    Bill Elliott extended his lead over Allison and Kulwicki the following race @ Rockingham, finishing 4th, while Allison was 10th, and Kulwicki, now 85 points behind Elliott, finished 12th~ But Elliott had a horrible run the following race in Phoenix, finishing 31st, while Allison went on to win, and Kulwick finished in the 4th position~ Allison's win moved him into the points lead, and Alan's finish moved him up to 2nd, only 30 points behind Allison, while Elliott dropped to 3rd, 40 points back~

    The final race of the season came @ Atlanta for the aptly named Hooters 500, and was Allison's to lose, and lose he did~ Allison got into a scuffle with Ernie Irvan when Irvan had a tire go out with 73 laps to go, leaving his car too damaged to continue~ It was now up to Elliott and Kulwicki to battle it out, and boy, did they ever~ Kulwicki made his final pit stop only after securing the "most laps led" bonus points, and the team rushed to put fuel in his car~

    Alan left the pits with little fuel in the car, and had to conserve throughout the remainder of the race, while Elliott took advantage of the teams mistake, and went on to win the race, but it wasn't enough, as Kulwicki came home in 2nd, and went on to win one of the most talked about championships in NASCAR history, defeating Elliott by 10 points~

                                      Alan Kulwicki hoisting up the championship trophy~
Alan Kulwicki #7 Hooters Racing Champions 1/64 NASCAR diecast blog die age

    Due to his tragic death, Alan would run only 5 more races in the car for the 1993 season~ He finished 26th in the Daytona 500, 4th in the GM Goodwrench 500 @ Rockingham, 3rd in the Pontiac Excitement 400 @ Richmond (his final top 5), 36th in the Motorcraft Quality Parts 500 @ Atlanta following a crash on lap 133, and in his final race ever, the TranSouth 500 @ Darlington, he finished in the 6th position~ At the time of his death, the defending champion was 9th in the points standings~
                                              The aftermath of Alan's plane crash~ 4-1-93~
Alan Kulwicki #7 Hooters Racing Champions 1/64 NASCAR diecast blog die age

     I'll never forget April 1st, 1993 as long as I live~ I was in bed, about to be woken up for school~ My mother ran into my room crying, screaming "He's dead!~ Alan's dead!~" I at first thought this was some kind of elaborate April fools prank.. but I quickly realized it wasn't once I wiped the sleep from my eyes and saw my mother standing there crying her eyes out~ I didn't go to school that day, instead I stayed home weeping, in shock that the champion of the sport I cherished so dearly was gone just like that~ I was almost 10 years old, so to me, heroes were still "immortal"... they weren't supposed to die~

    My Dad was a supervisor for Food Country USA, and we visited with him on the weekends due to my parents being divorced~ The assistant meat cutter at the Blountville store was also a part time EMT, and was one of the first people to arrive on the scene of Alan's crash~

    She described in graphic detail what she had seen.. being a small child, I couldn't believe what she was saying to me... describing how Alan's brain's were "scattered all over the place"~ I wanted to punch her in the nose for the way she was just basically treating it like a freaky little game or something, but I refrained, went into the back stock room behind a huge pallet of paper towels, and weeped~

     The race that Sunday was extremely saddening~ Everyone in attendance, you could see it in their eyes.. this was like a giant funeral for Alan~ We all stood there with a glaze in our eyes, hardly pay attention to the race, just reflecting on Alan's memory~ It was a weekend I'll never forget, and a weekend I wish never happened~ Alan finished his career with 24 poles, 5 wins, 38 top 5's, and 75 top 10's in 207 races~

                                                    Alan Kulwicki #7 Hooters Ford~
Alan Kulwicki #7 Hooters Racing Champions 1/64 NASCAR diecast blog 1992 Champion Winston Cup
                                                             Click pics to enlarge~
Alan Kulwicki #7 Hooters Racing Champions 1/64 NASCAR diecast blog 1992 Champion Winston Cup
                                                   1/43 scale Pit Crew Showcase~
Alan Kulwicki 1/43 Hooters #7 Pit Crew Showcase Racing Champions 1/64 NASCAR diecast blog

                                                                1/24 scale version~
Alan Kulwicki #7 1/24 Racing Champions Hooters 1/64 NASCAR diecast blog

    Racing Champions did a spectacular job on all of these Kulwicki cars~ Every detail is there, and the logos and striping on the cars are all very crisp and clean~  As far as I know, these are the only 3 scales of cars Racing Champions made featuring Alan's Hooters car~ If they made a 1/144 or 1/18 scale version, I'm not aware of it~ You can get a version of the 1/64 with a different card, featuring Alan with the Hooters girls, but I don't have that one~

    I give all 3 versions of these cars an A+ rating on the Racing Champions quality scale, and consider each one of them great additions to my collection~ Looking at them sometimes makes me sad, and I often sit around, as many of you, wondering "What if?"~ I guess I should be thankful we got to see a driver of his caliber for the years he was alive, as no other driver in NASCAR history since has been able to do what he did, and probably never will~

    As with all of my blog posts, I have added some videos featuring some highlights from Alan's career~ Enjoy them, and thank you all so much for visiting the blog~ - BMJ~

                                                        Last 9 laps of the Hooters 500~

                                                     Outside the Lines - Alan Kulwicki~

                                                                All of Alan's Cup wins~

                                            ESPN tribute before Bristol Busch series race~

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