The Frontstretch: Alan Kulwicki: Running Down A Dream by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday March 17, 2011

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Alan Kulwicki: Running Down A Dream

MPM2Nite · Matt McLaughlin · Thursday March 17, 2011

 

Though it was not all that long ago in the grand scheme of things, the Winston Cup circuit was very different back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Back then, almost all the star drivers were still Southern-born and bred, most of them having started their careers racing late models on one of those storied old bullrings south of the Mason-Dixon line. A driver who showed promise might hope one day to land a ride with one of the “Good ol’ boy” teams, like Junior Johnson’s, Bud Moore’s, or Richard Childress’s. Certainly, if that driver ever expected to have a chance at running for the championship, it was thought he needed to land a ride with an established team.

Then along came Alan Kulwicki. Not only was he born way north of the heart of Dixie in Greenfield, Wisconsin, his plan — to start his own team and be an owner/driver — was almost unheard of in that day. But Alan Kulwicki never did follow the beaten path.

He blazed his own.

Alan’s dad, Gerald, was a race engine builder of some notoriety. While Alan wanted to get involved in racing at an early age, his father insisted he get a good education. Possessed with a genius level IQ, Alan eventually earned a college degree in mechanical engineering during an era that saw most of NASCAR’s stars drop out of school early on to pursue their racing careers. Kulwicki would use that talent at engineering to build his own race cars. Because of a tight budget, he by and large built the cars by himself, and his thorough understanding of the makeup of a race car would make him among the best drivers at setting up a chassis the way he wanted it to feel.

Alan started racing late models at the age of 19 in 1974. His first start was at the Hale’s Corner Speedway in Wisconsin; that same year, he won his first feature race at Leo’s Speedway over in Oshkosh. Those who knew him well recall that was also the year Alan Kulwicki decided he wanted to run in Winston Cup one day, competing for the championship. Daytona is a long way from Oshkosh; but as he did with everything in his life, Alan sat down and methodically started plotting a path to reach his goal. There was no use in anyone telling him it was an impossible dream. As Alan was fond of saying, “Obstacles are what you see in your path when you take your eyes off your goal.”

Kulwicki followed his plan, graduating from the Wisconsin short track scene (after winning two track championships) to driving full-time on the USAC stock car racing circuit and, eventually, the ASA series. There, he befriended another future NASCAR superstar, Rusty Wallace. While friends off the track, the two drivers were fierce rivals on it, and treated the fans to some of the finest racing that series had ever known.

While it was a slight deviation from his plans, when Bill Terry offered Alan the chance to run a few Winston Cup races in 1985 Kulwicki jumped at the chance. He started his first Cup race at Richmond that Fall and finished 19th. Kulwicki would make a total of five Winston Cup starts that year, with his best finish a 13th at Charlotte. Still, Bill Terry had seen enough talent in Alan to offer him a ride during the 1986 season. At that point, Alan decided it was time to move south to continue pursuing his goal of winning a Cup title. He sold his own shop and equipment, packing all his things in an old Ford truck. The day he was to leave, the electrical system of the truck caught fire. While some might have seen that as a sign to abandon their plans to move south, Alan calmly set about rewiring the truck stem to stern, then headed south the day he finished the job.

While any chance to run Winston Cup is a chance worth taking, Terry’s team was an extremely small operation. The team had only one car and two engines, with limited sponsorship from Quincy’s restaurants. The deal was thrown together so quickly that Alan arrived at Daytona to find his name misspelled on the car.

Alan’s goal that year was to run for Rookie of the Year honors. Knowing that wrecking the car would mean he would most likely miss the next race, Alan developed his trademark smooth clean driving style. He was never into swapping paint like Dale Earnhardt or driving on the ragged edge like Tim Richmond. Alan drove with his head as much as his right foot, and brought his equipment home in one piece. That’s not to say he was slow; Alan had four top 10 finishes in 1986, including a fourth place run at Martinsville that Spring. Those finishes were enough to let Alan achieve his goal of winning top rookie honors.

Alan was ready to move up to the next level for 1987, but he and Bill Terry were no longer seeing eye to eye. Kulwicki knew in his mind what the team needed to run more competitively, but Terry was not interested in spending the necessary funding to match. Instead, he sold the team to Alan, who went deeply into debt to buy that small operation. Alan began spending money, efficiently but as needed, and began building up his team. He managed ten top 10 finishes in 1987, including a runner-up finish at Pocono in June that left him a mere second behind Dale Earnhardt. Suddenly, no one was laughing at the dreamer anymore. Kulwicki was beginning to turn heads, and had taken a step up to the level of contender. With his tiny little race team, he finished 15th in the points that year.

The ‘87 season went well enough that Alan was able to sign on his first major sponsor, Zerex antifreeze. The deal allowed him to buy and build newer equipment, as well as rent engines from Prototype Engineering. What Alan needed next was a crew chief who was as dedicated to his goals as he was.

While at the awards banquet, Kulwicki discussed who he should hire with his old friend Rusty Wallace. Wallace recommended Paul Andrews. It turned out to be a perfect match and a very successful association, as Alan was able to effectively communicate to Andrews how he wanted things done. Andrews was sold on Alan’s vision and worked tirelessly to accomplish just that. That’s not to say the pair never had words. When two perfectionists work in a high pressure environment, they are bound to cross swords occasionally. But Alan and Paul had a deep mutual respect, and they were able to talk through their differences.

Kulwicki and Andrews combined for a great season in 1988. Alan had nine top 10 finishes, including a pair of seconds and his Cup first win at Phoenix that year. After the victory, Alan did a reverse lap of the track, a move which he called his Polish victory lap. The fans loved it — but NASCAR asked Alan not to do it again. Alan smiled and told them he would never do another Polish victory lap until he won his first championship. One can imagine Bill Gazaway just rolled his eyes and walked away.

Sixteen years may have passed since his death in 1993, but Alan Kulwicki remains the last owner/driver to win a championship at NASCAR’s top level.

While Alan didn’t win any races in 1989, he did have four second place finishes and was running strong week in and week out. In 1990, he won the Fall race at Rockingham and finished eighth in the points. Thus, it was somewhat of a bombshell when Zerex announced they would not be returning to the team for the 1991 season. Naturally, the loss of a sponsor is a major setback to a team, and there were those who doubted that Kulwicki Racing would survive. Not Alan, though. He was convinced that he had Maxwell House locked up as a sponsor.

Meanwhile, Junior Johnson, who had perhaps the best eye for raw talent in NASCAR history, tried to convince Alan to come drive for him. Junior had owned six championship teams already, and when combined with a seven figure salary offer, it had to have been a major temptation. But Alan’s plan was to own the team he took to the championship, and he was loyal to the team members who had stood by him. He turned down Junior’s offer, thinking once Maxwell House signed on that everything would be fine. Junior tried very hard to change Alan’s mind, for he knew — but was not at liberty to say — that Maxwell House had decided to sponsor his second team rather then Alan.

Thus, Alan Kulwicki faced the start of the 1991 season without a sponsor. He was up front with his team, telling him he would be paying expenses out of his own pocket with no idea how far they could go into the season if no sponsor signed on. He told the team members if they chose to leave to pursue more stable employment, there would be no hard feelings.

No one chose to leave.

At Daytona that year, Alan had a rather unique one race sponsor. The Gulf War was raging on at that point, and to show the sport’s support of the troops Winston arranged to have five cars run with the colors of one of the branches of the armed services. Alan was chosen to represent the Army, and his car was painted up black and camouflage. He managed to finish eighth in that year’s 500; but while the team had a couple decent runs after that, money was quickly running out.

Then, in a happy coincidence almost out of a fairy tale, Alan managed to grab the pole at the March race in Atlanta. At that very same race, Mark Stahl, who drove for Hooters, failed to qualify. This led Hooters to approach Alan about a one race deal to run their colors. A shy man by nature and a devout Catholic, Alan was uncomfortable with representing the restaurant chain famous for its scantily clad and well-endowed waitresses. But in order to run for a championship, his team needed a sponsor, and the championship was his goal. Alan smiled and signed on the dotted line. The one race deal quickly turned to a full season sponsorship when Kulwicki finished eighth at that rain delayed race. Kulwicki won his first race carrying the Hooters colors at Bristol that year. Despite having started the season without a sponsor, he wound up finishing 13th in the points.

Going into 1992, Alan Kulwicki had all the ingredients for success: a big dollar sponsor, good equipment, a great crew chief, and a ton of talent. He had an unexpected advantage in that Goodyear introduced their new radial tires, which responded better to a smooth driving style than an “on the edge” one. But he also had some pretty formidable competition in the form of Bill Elliott, who had left his family team to drive for Junior Johnson, as well as Davey Allison, who was running for the formidable Robert Yates operation. While 1992 featured one of the most competitive championship hunts ever, it was Bill, Alan, and Davey who wound up being the cream of the crop.

While Davey and Bill grabbed the headlines, with Allison winning the Daytona 500 and Elliott winning four races in a row, Alan quietly kept himself in the hunt. He won twice that year, at Bristol and Pocono. While those two events might not have had the glamour of Daytona, they paid the same amount of points. Heading into the stretch drive to the title, Alan was in position to achieve his ultimate goal.

A terrible weekend at Dover that Fall seemed to doom his chances. After destroying his car in practice, Alan took a backup car out and won the pole. Unfortunately, during the course of the race he tangled with Chad Little, wrecked the backup car too, and finished 34th. (That wasn’t the worst of Alan’s problems at Dover. At the first race that year, he totaled two cars in practice, had to send a flatbed to the shop to pick up a third, and wrecked that one in the race as well. Paul Andrews recalls they only had to do five clip jobs on wrecked cars that year, and all of them were from Dover.) Alan dropped to 278 points out of the lead, and just about everyone said he had no chance to make up that big a gap with only six races to go.

Just about everyone but Alan, that is.

In subsequent races, Bill Elliott and Davey Allison had problems of their own, while Alan ran strong to pull himself right back into contention. Going into Atlanta for the season finale, Alan was in second position in the points, 30 behind Davey and 10 ahead of Bill. While most fans know how that championship chase turned out, many do not recall just how dicey things really were for Alan. For one thing, Davey only needed to finish fifth to guarantee himself a championship, and Atlanta was a horsepower track. Allison’s car owner, Robert Yates, knew a thing or two about horsepower, as he was one of the premier engine builders of that era. In addition, the race was sponsored by Hooters, who kept Alan running from appearance to appearance even while he desperately needed to be working on his car. Because he was a longshot, or underdog, to win the championship, Alan got permission from Ford to change the “Thunderbird” decal on the nose of his Ford to read “Underbird” for that fateful race.

Things did not go smoothly for Alan during that event. On his very first pit stop, he tore first gear out of the transmission. Because of all the shrapnel in the gearbox, Alan was eventually left with only fourth gear. While that wasn’t a problem out there on the track, it made for extremely slow pit stops, and there was a real question as to whether the transmission would survive to the end of the race. Meanwhile, Davey Allison’s hopes were wiped out when he got into a wreck with Ernie Irvan with 75 laps to go — but Bill Elliott had a strong horse and was running up front. Alan had a good car as well, and he, too, led a lot of laps.

Quietly, Paul Andrews began calculating how many laps Alan needed to lead to be guaranteed the five point bonus for leading the most laps, knowing the slow pit stops would make it unlikely that Alan could beat Bill for the race win. When a caution flew and Elliott pitted, Andrew told Alan to stay on the track two more laps, clinching that “Most Laps Led” five point bonus. With that brilliant move, Andrews may very well have helped Alan win the title.

But there was still more drama to come.

Elliott was leading the race with Kulwicki in second, the position he had to finish in to win the title if Elliott was to score the race win. Again, because the Underbird only had fourth gear, Andrews decided to just pit for a gas and go on the final stop rather then changing tires. When Alan pitted, his gas man gave the car a quick shot of fuel while the rest of the crew pushed Alan’s car out of the pits, hoping to help him avoid blowing up the transmission. It wasn’t until after the pit stop, when the team measured how much fuel was left in the 11 gallon pit can, that Andrews calculated they had not gotten enough gas into the car and it was going to be very close as to whether Alan could complete the race. Andrews radioed Alan with the bad news, and there was a stunned silence on the radio.

Paul told Alan to conserve fuel as best he could, and began telling his driver how many seconds behind third place Geoff Bodine was running. Kulwicki had a racer’s heart and would have dearly loved to challenge Elliott for the race win, but he also had his eyes on his goal… the championship. He needed to save gas but still keep Bodine behind him, and that is exactly what Alan managed to pull off. He finished second in the battle, but won the war, and became the 1992 Winston Cup champion.

After the race Alan radioed Paul and asked quietly, “Did we win it?” The crew’s enthusiastic cheering let him know that indeed he had. Alan spun the Underbird around, and true to that promise he made in Phoenix in 1988 did a Polish victory lap to celebrate his title. NASCAR didn’t seem to mind at all. After pulling into Victory Lane, Alan reached into his uniform and pulled out a 39 cent Ace pocket comb to straighten up his hair before emerging from the car. It was a classic Kulwicki moment: Why spend a bundle when a 39 cent item will work just as well?

The 1992 awards banquet in New York was one of the best events ever. During his speech, a gracious Bill Elliott presented Alan with a gold-plated pocket comb, thinking the 39 cent item was a bit beneath the new champion. Alan may never have laughed so hard in public before in his life. NASCAR did a moving tribute to their new champion set to the tune of “My Way.” While public speaking was not Alan Kulwicki’s strong point, he gave an exceptional speech that night in which he vowed to do everything in his power to make everyone associated with the sport proud of his tenure as champion.

1993 started with a great deal of optimism for Alan, Paul, and the team. While a dropped valve relegated them to a poor finish at the Daytona 500, Alan had a series of strong runs early on that season. After finishing sixth at the Spring race in Darlington, he had climbed back to ninth place in the point standings. There were still a lot of races left in the season, and the team was quietly confident they could repeat as champions.

On April 1st, 1993 Alan Kulwicki was flying to Bristol for that weekend’s race aboard a Hooters corporate jet. Until that year Alan had always flown commercial airliners, but with the busy commitment schedule of reigning champion, he had begun flying on corporate planes. The plane had almost reached Bristol when things went terribly wrong.

Subsequent investigations have revealed that the pilot forgot to turn on the de-icers and the engines flamed out. Dale Earnhardt was aboard his plane not far ahead of Alan’s as it prepared to touch down. Earnhardt heard the frantic emergency calls from Kulwicki’s pilot, then the terrified screams of the plane’s passengers, including those of his friend he called “Quickie.” Then, there was an ominous silence. It was hours before the media was told the worst possible news. Alan Kulwicki and the other passengers aboard the plane had all died in the fiery wreck. Because of Alan’s celebrity, the names of the other three victims are often overlooked, but Mark Brooks, Dan Duncan, and Charles Campbell also perished that night.

The NASCAR family was stunned and moved to tears by the loss of their quiet champion. The next morning the No. 7 team’s rig, with a black wreath on the grille, took two slow laps around Bristol in a driving rain, while the other teams stood along pit road silently in honor of Alan Kulwicki.

Alan Kulwicki passed away at the age of 39. In his brief life, though, he managed to achieve the goal others had told him was impossible. His words, “Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal” are a map to the path of success for others brave enough to dream. And while his reign was far too short, Alan kept the promise he made that night in New York as well. We were proud to have Alan Kulwicki as our champion, and miss him to this day.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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chris
03/17/2011 05:59 AM
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The Greenfield Hooters has a wonderful area with memoriablia from Alan. Visit it next time anyone is in Milwaukee. He is a local hero.

Bill B
03/17/2011 12:37 PM
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Will Alan Kulwicki be in the HOF? A better question would be; Will all Sprint/Nextel/Winston Cup champions eventually be in the HOF?

babydufus
03/17/2011 12:41 PM
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what’s that thing that alan in kneeling in front of on the homepage? it seems familiar but i can’t quite place it.

KyCupFan
03/17/2011 02:01 PM
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@babydufus

That my friend, is a REAL race car!

Gary
03/17/2011 02:17 PM
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Thx for the great article. I remember April 1, 1993 very well. I just landed in Phx for the CART race and heard the news on the radio. Being a diehard AK fan from Wisconsin I went to a local Hooters on Bell Road to find someone to commiserate with and unfortunately no one there had any idea who Alan was nor that he died that day (things sure have changed a lot in Phx with all the Nascar fans nowadays). I was sick but nursed a beer in the corner in his honor. That was a sad day but I never tire of hearing his story for encouragement. He definitely was a special person and a great competitor.

Susan: you’re a mean person and rotten to the core. Go crap on someone else b*tch.

Bill B
03/17/2011 02:20 PM
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Man, the the bug up that girl’s ass has a bug up it’s ass.

Susan
03/17/2011 02:59 PM
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Oh, one fact I forgot to mention: Terry Labonte, who was not in contention for the win, decided on one caution to stay out a lap for the FIVE BONUS POINTS FROM HELL. If he had not, Bill would have gotten the extra lap led he needed and all that brilliant engineering know-how that went into calculating 1+1 would have gone out the window and Bill would have won the championship. Lucky break for Alan? Damn straight it was, but Alan didn’t believe in luck. There was also talk of radio problems on the 11 (Elliott) team, but Bill never mentioned this, because he has too much class to rain on Alan’s parade. But somebody has to be the biitch and tell the truth and I am proud to play the part.

Tim S.
03/17/2011 03:28 PM
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Just think how long the rant would be if she still had all that hatred. Which, by the way, she doesn’t have anymore.

GinaV24
03/17/2011 03:57 PM
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Very nice column, Matt. IMO Alan does belong in the HOF, he was a racer and although the story has a tragic ending, he kept his eye on the prize and won it over a FULL season, not any trumped up 10 race silliness.

Wow, Susan, based on that post, I wouldn’t think you didn’t still hate Dale and Alan.

Mike
03/17/2011 05:43 PM
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While not a big Alan K. fan that was a good read MATT.

Susan, you might want to refrain from posting when “Aunt Flo” comes for her monthly visit.

Susan
03/17/2011 06:36 PM
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So, Gina, do you believe that winning one championship and accomplishing NOTHING else of note entitles a driver to be in the HOF? Man, it’s gonna get crowded in there, and we haven’t even gotten DW in yet – he will want his own wing! And of course, Alan was SUCH a racer, he didn’t even bother to try to win the last race or the other what (100 races?) he was in during his illustrious career? Funny how the guy who keeps “not racing” into the championship (according to Gina) has managed to win 55 races at a younger age than Alan was when he died with a total of 5. (For the thinking impaired, I am referring to Jimmie Johnson.) You people are such damn hypocrites! Most of you probably cheered when you heard a Hendrick plane went down at Martinsville, didn’t you? Or did you just not care? Or seriously, did you not even know until I just told you? Great fans you got, Matt.

Matt has his story and it is biased; I have mine and it is also biased, but less so, since Matt had some kind of man-crush on Alan. And Alan was not so much an outsider because he was from Wisconsin, but because he was a nerd. Maybe Matt identifies.

For the record, I had a sort of a crush on Bill, but would have been OK with a Davey or Bill championship because Davey did everything to deserve it, won the 500, won as many races as Bill, led the points most of the season – not just the LAST ONE RACE – which you people have so much problem with when it comes to the Chase. Alan got lucky. Then he got very unlucky. Nice story, but you really need to know the whole story to put it into perspective.

Why does it make you people so angry when I point out facts Matt leaves out? You know I am not a fan of Matt since Aunt Flo visited him ten years ago and never left. But rant, hatred? Where are getting that? Of all the principals, the only one I really still hate is Junior Johnson because he was and is a crook, a cheater, and he cheated on his wife while screwing his girlfriend and his race team simultanesouly. Busy man. And a sleaze.

So kiddies, when Matt has story time, make sure there is someone around to tell the WHOLE story. Or you might think somebody like Alan Kulwicki deserves to be in the HOF.

Bill B
03/17/2011 08:16 PM
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Susan,
If you look at my first post you’ll see I said what you said in a sentence. The only way Alan should make it is if a championship is a guarenteed “in”. I could argue either way for or against that being the case but who really cares. Obviously not many considering the deficit the HOF has been accumulating.
Also, for the record, if you’ve been reading Matt’s column for any length of time, you’d know that he doesn’t have a man crush on Alan. It’s Tim Richmond.

Now go take a valium and if you’ve got an extra one….

MATT
03/17/2011 09:25 PM
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Susan,
There’s a lot I could say but I prefer a switchblade to a broadax. You are in serious need of pyshciatric help. Your life, and the lives of those unfortunate to encounter you both here in cyberspace and in the real world, would be better for it. I truly pity you this evening.

MPM

babydufus
03/17/2011 10:37 PM
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wow… what’s the big hubub?… no one hardly actually goes to the official nascar “hall of fame.” which is no doubt sponsored by someone who would be better suited being on the side of an actual race car and brought to you by another company that swallowed a similar line of crap from france’s machine. the one that was built with taxpayers dollars and donations from the same folk that PT Barnum called out. Screw that.
Their are many drivers in the babydufus hall of fame. it’s the place in my mind and in my heart that doesn’t loose money and i can go when ever i want. where a guy named kulwicki, richmond, houston or evans or even stefanik sits next to a bunch of other stock car drivers. they got in by participating in not promoting the sport i favor. does alan belong in the official hall of fame? certainly before anyone named france but really.. frankly scarlett… i don’t give a crap but thanks matt for helping me keep those memories fresh and alive.

Leo
03/18/2011 12:25 AM
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No one threatened you with a switchblade. Matt said…. “I prefer a sharp cut to a gaping wound.”

MSW
03/18/2011 12:31 PM
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Does anyone else think Susan and Randy Goldman would make a good couple?

Gary
03/18/2011 02:12 PM
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Susan: you have way too much anger and time on your hands. I think when Leo was referring to “gaping wound” he was referring to your vagina.
Please don’t cheer for my alma mater MU they don’t need a fan like you. Go ahead and send me a scathing response so the amusement can go on lol.

Mike
03/18/2011 02:25 PM
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You might have a college degree; but, that doesn’t mean your diatribes are well constructed or on point. You are certainly capable of quantity…

What does the Fairness Doctrine have to do with a NASCAR opinion piece? How did you manage to get the current news from Japan into your discussion? Why do you assume most of the people here cheered the Hendrick plane crash? Or that we don’t find that JJ’s accomplishments are pretty impressive – even if he’s not everyone’s favorite driver?

When it comes down to it, you’re quite clear that you didn’t care for Alan. Fine. I met him once, and he was very gracious and polite. Maybe he kicked a dog later that day – but, he didn’t do any such thing in my presence. Maybe he was an SOB to work with/for. Some people are driven that way – in fact, some might say that Kyle Busch is similarly driven. It doesn’t matter though, because that’s who they are, and you’re entitled to your opinion about them – just like the rest of us.

I was never the biggest AK fan during that time; but, I still recognized that he was able to win a championship using the rules that were in place. To say that he backed into it is pure opinion. It went down the way it went down, luck or not. Even if he had won the last five races of the season, I doubt if you’d have been happy about it – and that’s okay. But, using your logic – if Bill had won the championship that day, he would have won it on Alan’s bad day at Dover.

Carl D.
03/18/2011 02:35 PM
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Susan would be much more effective at making her point if she didn’t feel the need to belittle others in the process. I’m rather enjoy a intense debate, but not so much the childish insults she feels are necessary.

Sean
03/18/2011 03:42 PM
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Bill B, Kulwicki will certainly be inducted, as will all champions except Bill Rexford (all the Cup champions through 1997 except Rexford were included on the 50 Greatest Drivers’ List, and I think pretty much everyone on that list will eventually be inducted). Dying in one’s prime certainly does increase one’s myth in any endeavor. Susan is right about that. Still, treating Kulwicki as just an ordinary everyday 5-time winner (as if he had a comparable level of impact to 4-time winners Ken Schrader or Morgan Shepherd) is misguided. Kulwicki’s success inspired D. Waltrip, G. Bodine, Rudd, and Elliott to become owner-drivers afterward. Only Rudd won more races in the period (and Kulwicki would have if he had lived), and none of those drivers (all of whom were great) finished better than fifth in points as owner-drivers. Kulwicki certainly had a ridiculous level of good luck in the last six races to win that title, but he still had probably the worst equipment of any champion in the modern era (save possibly Benny Parsons, whose L.G. DeWitt team was arguably even more underfunded relative to the competition). And don’t dare count Tony Stewart today as an owner-driver. He’s a Hendrick franchisee. Robby Gordon is the only real owner-driver at the moment, and you can see how well he’s doing at it at the moment. Even if Kulwicki’s equipment was better than people thought, it was not better than the Robert Yates and Junior Johnson teams, so for Kulwicki to be even in the same ballpark with them meant that he was ridiculously overachieving. Harry Gant frequently had underfunded teams in the same period and also overachieved. I have more respect for both of their talents than I do for Davey Allison, the true driver of that era I think has been overhyped beyond proportion due to death (since from 1987-1990 he underachieved with some of the best engines on the track, although granted there was team instability with Yates purchasing the team from Ranier, and Ernie Irvan blew him out of the water in the #28 until his first Michigan crash). Not that Davey was bad, he was just a fifth-place driver elevated to greatness due to dying immediately after his two great seasons. Davey was sort of somewhere between Mark Martin and Jeff Burton in my mind, an enduring solid contender who could occasionally contend for titles but not a world-beater (almost exactly how I felt about Dale, Jr. from 2000-2006 funnily enough before he dropped off the face of the earth in 2007), and I don’t think he would have won a title, since he was a step down from Earnhardt, Wallace, and Martin (who also went empty-handed), and he wasn’t as good as Gordon either who probably would have dominated the second half of the ‘90s either way. (I LIKE Davey more than most of the drivers I have listed, by the way, because of his passion and true grit but I think that speaks to his character more than his talent which was not QUITE as strong as most argue).

Susan, I have respect for any driver who gives a team its first taste of success, and that certainly also applies to Elliott who had great results when the Mellings were underfunded (as well as Earnhardt/Rod Osterlund, Martin/Roush, Irvan/Morgan-McClure, G. Bodine/Hendrick, Jarrett/Gibbs, Kulwicki, etc…) I’d probably list Elliott over Kulwicki myself in terms of judging entire careers, since although Kulwicki’s 1992 was better, Elliott’s whole career was. But even if Elliott was better (on which I agree with you, by the way) that doesn’t mean it’s okay to smear Kulwicki’s accomplishments. Silly me, I thought the kind of people who liked underdogs like Elliott would also like Kulwicki. Elliott by the way is MATT’s favorite driver, which makes your criticism of him on this strange.

And I don’t want anyone to think I’m being a hypocrite re: Davey Allison. I’m not smearing Davey. I like him. I think some of what people say about him is overblown (like the projections that he would have gone on to a Jeff Gordon win total, which I think is ridiculous) because I think there were drivers like Kulwicki, Gant, Rudd, Bonnett, Irvan, and G. Bodine who were frequently in worse equipment at the same time doing just as much as Davey did, which implies that all or most of those drivers were therefore better, and I feel those drivers don’t get enough respect now, and Davey gets too much. That doesn’t mean I don’t like Davey. I certainly do.

I hope every driver I mentioned (except Ken Schrader, Morgan Shepherd, and probably Jeff Burton) is inducted into the NASCAR HoF, and since they were all on the 50 Greatest Drivers’ List, I think they will be.

Gary
03/18/2011 05:39 PM
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Susan: I’m sure glad you cleared that up. I always looked at myself as more of a humble little zit instead of a full blown pimple.

JedZeplin
03/18/2011 06:24 PM
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I’ve decided the best way to enjoy the columns on FS is to stop reading at the final period of the final sentence of the final paragraph, and forego the reader responses. Some of these comments are just asinine and unnecessary. It’s not just Matt’s pieces that fall prey, most of the staff contributors to this site are lambasted on a regular basis. A small number of people, and it’s usually the same ones, seem to come to the FS site for no reason other than internet combat. Please go away. We don’t need you here.

Dyno
03/18/2011 08:03 PM
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If susan & randi were a couple they’d have almost an I.Q, of 7 but since their crap comes from the same brain? & keyboard, who knows…But 1 things for sure, susan is a brainless lil bitch hiding behind her pc & her alter ego, (thats lil randi for the newbies here)heres a message from myself & any other real Nascar fan, AK is & always will be remembered just the way Matt just described him, Class act & damn good race car driver who was & always will be a Winston Cup Champion…

MATT
03/18/2011 08:07 PM
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Let’s look at some FACTS.

72 drivers from WI have competed in the top three tiers of NASCAR racing. I stopped counting how many Georgian drivers have done so when I hit 144, double the number from WI, and I was only up to the G’s. (Want to count yourself…go to Racing-Reference.com and go to drivers by state.) In te modern era I can think of no other WI drivers who have won races, just Kenseth and Kulwicki.

Kulwicki won just five races. He had two years in decent equipment. Not Junior Johnson quality equipment, but decent equipment. How many more would he have won had it not been for that tragic flight? No one can tell you.

How many films did James Dean (note to Susan, the movie star not the sausage maker) star in? How many Oscars did he win. Yet he is still revered in the film community for Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. He remains a pop icon. Too fast to live, too you to die, bye-bye. That’s Dean and Alan.

Alan backed into a title. Hmmm. That seems to suggest that there was a basic flaw to the then current NASCAR points system. Which I said over and over again frequently but not because I became bitter when Bill didn’t win the title in 1992. So I guess you are agreeing with me that NASCAR had a stupid points system that rewarded consistency not excellence. Which means you must be a NASCAR hater as you accuse me of being. (Once AGAIN….I love stock car racing which is why I stick around. I just don’t have any warm fuzzies about the sancitioning body’s decision makers.) Is someone who disagreed with LBJ’s and Nixon’s Southeast Asis policy hate the US? Does he hate the soldiers who fought there? Nope. Good soldiers, bad war.

I find your indifference and cavalier attitude towards what’s going on in Japan appalling. I am no fan of Japan or Toyota as you have reason to know. But on a human to human level it still troubles me as I lay trying to sleep some young child might be laying under all that debris dying. That despite the fact I’d have a lot more cousins if so many Uncles and relations hadn’t died fighting the Imperial Army.

I’m not a drunk. I have too many dear friends who would pull me up short and get me help if I reached that level. I wrote my response at around 9:30 on Saint Pat’s. In the old days I’d have been partying with the crew until two or three when the bars shut down, but I felt I’d had enough and it was time to head home before Dano got up on the bar and sang “Tora, Rora Laura” again. Getting old sucks but it makes for a lot less tense rides home from the tavern. (In the truck of course. After two beers the Harley stays parked. And I put a LOT of miles on that Harley.)

Does Alan belong in the Hall of Fame? I wouldn’t nominate him for this year’s class or next…or maybe not even the one after that. But as a human being I take inspiration from his method, determination and even his madness. Don Quixote in a race car. In troubled times like these with Japan, Libya and the rest it’s nice to occasionally reflect on the indominatable human spirit and what it can acheive against the odds. For as many years as I roam this earth, long after this column stops running (which is once a year not three by the way) I will be inspired by Alan…and Davey who showed such fortitude in the face of so much tragedy, and Tim, who burned his candle at both ends but gave off such a beautiful light (and bought me a beer after I lost a round of pool to him in defiance of the natural order of things) and Dale, who rose from a dust poor (his Daddy couldn’t afford dirt) kid to the face of the sport for decades after Richard stopped winning. If you want to throw rocks at any of them, feel free. The legacy they all left behind can’t be damaged by a pebble throwing troll who does not play well with others and brings her own agenda, biased though it clearly is, to the table and presents it as THE TRUTH.

I’ll tell my buddy Susan what I’ve told other critics before, go find a website that will publish your views bi-weekly and see what sort of readership you develop. See if you can do it for thirteen or fourteen years. Get back to me after four or five and we’ll compare scars and war stories. Those who can do. Those who can’t criticize.

Unlike others I can’t decide is Susan is just another facet of RG, but for those who think she is “Hot” just remember a cyberspace sex change operation doesn’t involve the removal of sex organs, or even the removal of the changees head from their anus.

Mike
03/18/2011 11:26 PM
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As one of the younger fans whose Dad got him into racing (first race I recall was the 1993 finale), I’ve always remembered hearing Alan as a guy who was as much a car chief as he was a driver. He was said to be the first to go in and the last to leave.

Like Tim Richmond or all the others taken before their time, we’re never going to know how far he could’ve gone, but that five win total? By the time Alan would’ve called it quits, it’d easily be triple, if not more.

Tim S.
03/18/2011 11:45 PM
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Well said, JedZ. And it’s not really surprising that there’s a Hendrick undercurrent here.

Dyno
03/19/2011 07:53 AM
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12 comments on 1 article, all just to blast Matt’s opinion, I think we all see why you lived with a drunk for 20 years..because he had to listen to your ranting day in & day out…How bout you stick to BB & let the people that enjoy this site do the commenting, keep up the good work Matt.

SS Mike
03/19/2011 11:06 AM
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Susan, if I lived with you for 20 years I would be a drunk too though I cannot imagine anyone being with you for more then 20 minutes.

If you think Junior Johnson is a crook then you must really love Rick Hendrick.

MATT
03/19/2011 07:18 PM
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What’s a phone book?

The Red Carr
03/19/2011 07:33 PM
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Wow! I always read Matt’s column the day it comes out. Then I go back two days later to read the comments. Susan you just wasted two days criticizing a column that Matt writes every year.Personally I look forward to the AK story before every Spring Bristol race.It is a much better story than the story of today’s youth using their father’s fortunes to go racing.
It was interesting to go back and check the time-line of your posts.
I have been reading Matt since the 90’s and I think you set a record for meaningless spiteful comments.

Dyno
03/19/2011 08:38 PM
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Oh suzie, I see your now at 15 comments about the same column, again to tell us how bad Matt is, how smart(lmao) that you think you are, nobody thats smart goes to UWM, You have a vibrator fetish, you drink diet coke because its the #2 selling soda,you suck at golf so you quit playing,you won something last night? (who cares this isn’t a chat room), your I.Q is 20, & you don’t think AK belongs in the H.O.F, & the topper is I believe you just told us your hubby stuck around for 20 years because your hot???..LMFAO, If he was drunk for 20 years straight the damn family dog probably looked hot to him…just saying…& jmo, you should let this go for now, because you know Matt has another column coming after tomorrows race & were all on pins & needles waiting to here your next 15 opinions…

Dyno
03/20/2011 08:46 AM
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10:25, 10:59, 1:00am, & 5:17am..Susan, I think you misunderstood, I meant your next 15 comments on Matt’s next column, not 15 more on this 1…Its Bristol day try enjoying the race today & give that keyboard a little break

Dyno
03/20/2011 10:50 PM
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Thank you susan you have now proved my point for me, You are nothing more then a little internet troll who likes nobody, as a matter of fact I’m guessing you hate yourself & your life I just figured if I poked you enough you’d show your colors, but rapist?, really??, Geez, thats past pathetic, but just for you I’m gonna set the record straight for you, I’ve been following nascar since I was 11 yrs old in 1971, I married my high school sweetheart right out of high school, we’ve raised 2 sons, both of whom could & have helped me build numerous houses from the concrete up, I’ve got 3 beautiful granddaughters who cherish every minute with grandpa & grandma…Now on another note I suggest you look in the mirror if you can stand it for a second, & I’m guessing you are gonna realize that you are nothing more then a little waste of sperm that really has no real value on this earth. Now save your venom for 1 of the other places you spread sunshine around the internet because now that you’ve proved my point there will be no more responses to your silly & outlandish BS.& btw my apologys to Randy for grouping you with all of his alter egos, your too classless to be him..