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Kulwicki Team Assembles 20 Years After Title

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 20 2013

Alan Kulwicki picks up some hardware after winning at Phoenix in 1988. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – With very few exceptions, loyalty in NASCAR disappeared with the arrival of the 21st Century. Therefore, when one sees the loyalty that still exists for Alan Kulwicki from his 1992 championship crew, it is heart-warming.

Twenty years after losing their mentor, their leader, in a plane crash near Bristol, Tenn., nine members of the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup championship team reunited. It was a time to laugh, shed a few tears, renew friendships and help raise money for the Alan Kulwicki Memorial Scholarship fund at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

Held Sunday, the storytelling hour, reception and dinner was the idea of Ryan Zeck, the scholarship’s first recipient.

Created by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. shortly after Kulwicki’s 1993 death, no money had been added to the scholarship since then even though the university’s tuition costs had risen. Zeck wanted to do something that would increase the scholarship so hopefully, more financial help could be awarded. The result of his efforts was “Tire Talk: A Drive Down Memory Lane with Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 Championship Crew Members”, a reception and then dinner with the featured speaker being retired Charlotte Motor Speedway president H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler.

Some of the team members hadn’t seen each other in 15 or more years and no one left the event without exchanging telephone numbers. However, to fully understand this team’s loyalty to Kulwicki you have to know what these men did in order to attend this event. Danny Cameron flew in from California, Tom Roberts came from Alabama, Joe Covington drove from Richmond, Va., and Cal Lawson took off from his avionics technician job at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, N.C., to attend. Ron Vicarro, whose son was fatally injured last month, made it in from Greensboro, N.C.

Also attending from the Charlotte area were Brian Whitesell, Ed Lesley, Peter Jellen and Shane Parsnow.

For those who worked with Kulwicki, it seemed easier for them to talk about how the extremely intelligent engineer from Wisconsin frustrated them, inspired them and, yes, even angered them than in previous years. When the crew was asked by program host John Roberts who was fired and rehired the most by Kulwicki, they all pointed to Cameron, who worked in various areas in addition to spotting.

Vicarro, the team’s head engine builder, noted that if you ever told Kulwicki you needed some flowers to smooth things over with a wife or a girlfriend, the driver would simply open the trunk of his car and tell you to take one of the assorted flower arrangements women had sent him.

Roberts recounted the Atlanta media blitz he had set up for Kulwicki a few days prior to the 1992 season finale in Atlanta. It was then that Kulwicki told Roberts if he won the championship the song he wanted played with the video to be shown at the awards banquet was “My Way.” And one other thing, it had to be Frank Sinatra’s version.

Roberts informed Linger Productions, who had requested the information. A few days later the word came back from Linger the song had been acquired, but it was Elvis Presley’s version because the rights to Sinatra’s was too expensive. Roberts said that simply wouldn’t do, it had to be Sinatra and he would mortgage his house if necessary to make it happen. Linger Productions understood the importance and acquired the rights to Sinatra’s version of the song without Roberts having to mortgage his house.

Everyone who knew Kulwicki or worked with him had an understanding from the beginning that things associated with his race car and team would be done his way. He wasn’t the easiest person to work for or with, but he was a person to be admired and respected. He came into a sport that told him everything he wanted to do couldn’t be done.

He consistently proved them wrong, winning the championship as an owner/driver and using innovative procedures and technology that are considered commonplace among today’s teams. He defeated $10 million sponsored teams for the championship with a $2.2 million sponsor and spent only $1.4 million. Of course, that was because, as Kulwicki said, it will be done “my way.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 20 2013
5 Comments

5 Comments »

  • Gordon Weidner says:

    I knew Alan way back when he was racing a Hales Corners in Greenfield, WI. He was hard to get along with even then and yes, even then he did it “His Way”. I think I have every die cast, card, etc. that anyone ever produced. My pride and joy. Such a tragic ending to a brilliant career.

  • Bob S. says:

    As a long, long time fan of Kulwicki I enjoyed reading your article. It was heartwarming to hear about some of Alan’s team getting together like that. Thanks for writing about it.

  • Ron Yesney says:

    Thanks for the story. It is great to know folks are still working to keep the memories of this great man and race team alive. I have a ton of respect for what Alan and his team accomplished. I wish NASCAR still had truly independent teams that were competitive. Rest in peace AK.

  • Tony Geinzer says:

    I have a golden idea and if an Almost 60 Year Old Alan Kulwicki where here today, he’d approve it: Why not invite 7 Kelly Bires or Kelsey Bauers to the 30th All Star Race?

  • Ryan Zeck says:

    Great story for an equally great night. Very special to me!