Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Newman's Win Evokes Memories of Kulwicki

It’s been 19 years since Alan Kulwicki’s airplane lost power and crashed en route to Bristol Motor Speedway, killing the newly crowned NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion and three others.

Alan Kulwicki left his mark.
Sunday, on the 19th anniversary of his passing, former Kulwicki crewman Tony Gibson celebrated in Victory Lane at Martinsville Speedway after leading Ryan Newman’s Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet team to its first victory of the 2012 season.

The significance of the date was not lost on Gibson.

“I thought about (Kulwicki’s death) last night,” he said after Sunday’s race. “And it means a lot. A lot of the reason I'm where I'm at is because of Alan. The fight to never give up and always believe in yourself comes from him.”

As the last of NASCAR’s independent champions, Kulwicki was stubborn, independent and determined to do things his own way. The holder of an engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he tackled the sport with an analytical approach that was decades ahead of its time. You can’t swing a rope in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage these days without hitting an engineer. But in 1992, Kulwicki was an anomaly; an underfunded, often scowling renegade who rallied his underfunded band of helpers to upset heavily favored Bill Elliott and Davey Allison to claim the NASCAR Winston Cup title in a Ford Thunderbird aptly dubbed “Underbird”

“Alan put a lot of that (attitude) in a lot of guys in this garage,” recalled Gibson Sunday. “Not only me.”

Gibson on Newman: "He's just like Alan."
Gibson said Newman –a degreed engineer from Purdue University -- is similar to his former boss in many ways. “It's pretty cool to be with Ryan with the engineering background,” he said. “He's wicked smart, and whenever you try to catch him on something, he's got a little bit better answer for you. He's just like Alan… the same type of guy; a guy that all he wants to do is race. All he believes in is racing. It just goes to show you, you can be smart and you can drive, too.”

Ironically, Newman lists Kulwicki near the top of his list of childhood heroes.

“I remember (the day he died), 19 years ago when I was in High School,” said Newman following his win. “He was an inspiration for me. He was part of the reason why I chose to be an engineer and follow through with my racing career at the same time.

“Like Tony said, he's inspirational to a lot of people in the garage. That never-give-up attitude, the underdog mentality that he had (of) `No matter what, we'll do our best and that's all we can do.’ That's what we did today.”


  1. Stories of Alan, Davey, and Tim Richmond need to be told often so that they, and others that left us and the sport too often, aren't forgotten. Keep up the good work, Godfather!

  2. Anonymous1:27 PM

    Alan Kulwicki was and STILL is one of my NASCAR hero's. 19 years ago on that fateful Thursday night I sat in the Nashville Marriott during the wicked storm that claimed Alan and his friends from Hooters. I was with friends going to Bristol to see the Spring race that weekend. When we heard Alan had died the next morning over the TV, I was heartbroken and decided to fly home instead of going to the race. He was one of a kind. NASCAR isn't the same without him. Coincidentally, he died the same day (April 1) as my brother did last year (of pancreatic cancer) so it was a doubly sad weekend for me.

    Doug from NJ

  3. Schreib9:11 PM

    Kulwicki's tragic plane crash was one of those 'I remember where I was when I heard' moments. I didnt want to go to high school that day; I felt sick. The 1992 season was a tough one for me, rooting for either Alan, Bill, or Davey to win the title.I couldnt choose a favourite, but when I saw Alan win it, I couldnt have been more proud. Looking back now, Alans and ultimately Daveys untimely deaths have never been far from my memory bank. It was a sad 1993,on the heels of a tremendously awesome 1992, highlighted by the 'Underbird' and Kulwicki winning the Winston Cup!