Return To Glory

17794Jpg
BRISTOL, Tenn. - It was late afternoon on Sunday, April 4, 1993; less than 70 hours after defending NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Alan Kulwicki had perished along with three others when his sponsor's plane crashed while attempting to land at the nearby Tri-City Airport. His long-time friend Rusty Wallace had just won the Food City 500 on the Bristol half-mile in dominant fashion, leading six times for 376 of the 500 laps and scoring a 0.820-second victory over archrival Dale Earnhardt.

After taking the checkered flag and being egged on via the team two-way radio by then crew chief Buddy Parrott, tire changer Bill Wilburn and chassis specialist/tire carrier Todd Parrott, Wallace went down into turn one and turned his Pontiac around with the driver's side nearest the wheel fence. He then made a lap around the track in reverse direction, waving exuberantly to the electrified and appreciative throng of fans.

"That was our tribute to Alan, our fallen champion, and the three others who lost their lives here on Thursday night," Wallace said in Victory Lane after climbing from his car. "The Polish victory lap was Alan's trademark and we dedicate this win here today in his honor."

(Kulwicki initially performed his special victory lap after winning his first NASCAR Winston Cup race on Nov. 6, 1988 at Phoenix International Raceway. As a means of getting closer to the fans and giving them the opportunity to get a better view of the driver, he came up with the idea of a victory lap done in the reverse direction. The appreciative fans were ecstatic and because of Kulwicki's proud Polish heritage, the celebratory act immediately became known as the Polish victory lap by his own designation. He performed his special lap on only one more occasion during his career. That came on Nov. 15, 1992, after finishing second in the Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and winning the season's point championship by a mere 10 points over Bill Elliott, who was driving for legendary car owner Junior Johnson.)

Wallace's post-race tribute was a fitting ending for a melancholy Bristol race weekend. He was among those grieving the loss at the airport that Thursday night. Wallace and team went out and captured the pole in Friday qualifying. With the defending series champion missing on Sunday and his first spot on pit road (per the rules back then) vacant, NASCAR officials gave the spot to pole-winning Wallace and fate took control of the day from there on.

The April 1993 victory was Wallace's fourth career Bristol win and in the 10 years since, the 1989 series champ has logged five additional Bristol wins. Each time he has been victorious on the .533-mile track since 1993, Wallace had turned his car around and performed Kulwicki's patented Polish victory lap as a tribute to his late friend and fallen champ.

Wallace is set to make yet another Polish victory lap at Bristol this Saturday night in his Miller Lite Team Penske Dodge. As the "kick-off" for the recently announced "Victory Lap" program (where still-active past champions are paired with another inactive or late champ), the NASCAR tribute to long-time series sponsor R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Wallace is paired with his late pal Kulwicki. Part of the pre-race activity will feature Wallace making the lap in reverse direction around the track. His Miller Lite Dodge will carry a special one-race commemorative color scheme in this weekend's Sharpie 500.


"Bristol was special to Alan Kulwicki and Alan was special to Bristol," Wallace said. "He got two of his five wins and three poles at Bristol and he was always a big factor in every race he ran there. He and I grew up running the ASA cars at the high-banked tracks like Winchester, Ind., and others. He was known as the king of Slinger Speedway, that high-banked quarter mile up near Milwaukee. We both learned a lot in our short-track days and I think that's why we were able to do so well at Bristol. Appropriately, they've even named one of their grandstands after him. (Kulwicki's overall career Bristol statistics showed 14 starts, 2 wins, 6 top-5s, 8 top-10s & 3 poles. He was the defending pole and race winner entering the 1993 Food City 500.)

"Everybody knows that Bristol is my favorite track and I think it was Alan's, too," said Wallace. "I think when we take the show car and my car out there and do the Polish victory lap, I think it'll really bring the house down. Hopefully the Polish victory lap we do in the pre-race is the first of two we do during the night. We want to win this one bad and then turn her around and do another one in tribute to Alan and RJR and in celebrating our 10th win at Bristol."

While Wallace is looking forward to being the leadoff player in NASCAR's special tribute program to RJR, he is even more eager to get back to his once customary winning ways on the lightning fast half mile.

He came close to winning last year's Sharpie 500 and breaking his winless streak that stood at 49 races at the time. However, one obstacle got in the way. It came in the form of Jeff Gordon, who was riding a 31-race winless streak of his own.

In the closing laps of last August's race, Wallace moved around Jimmy Spencer for fourth on lap 455 and around Kurt Busch for third on lap 464. He moved to the inside and around Matt Kenseth on lap 479 for second and made another inside move around Kevin Harvick for the lead on lap 482.

With 10 laps to go, Wallace was leading and holding off Gordon. But the two approached Gordon's teammate Joe Nemechek's car and that held them up. They finally cleared that car with four laps to go. Working lap 498, Gordon applied a "love tap" to the rear of Wallace's Ford and made the pass for the lead. He led the final two laps as Wallace tried in vain to catch the No. 24 car.

"I just got hit in the rear end going into three and knocked sideways and it knocked me out of the groove," Wallace said of the incident. " It's the same thing he did to me three or four years ago and I haven't forgotten about both of those deals."

A career statistical breakdown in 39 races for Wallace at Bristol sports nine wins, 20 top-fives, 27 top-10s, seven poles and $1,800,197 in career winnings.

"Bristol's always been like a home track to me," said Wallace. "I know that I've said that many times before, but I'll say it again. The fact that I won my first race there back in 1986, the fact that we've always had so much success there, the fact that we have such a big following of race fans in the area and having the auto dealerships just down the road from the place...all add up to making it like a homecoming every time we go to Bristol. It has always been a special place for us and always will be."

Saturday night's Sharpie 500 has a 7:30 p.m. EDT starting time and features live coverage by TNT-TV and PRN Radio.

Photos

  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • GEICO 500
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • Toyota Owners 400
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond
  • From the Archives: Richmond

Advertisement

You may unsubscribe at any time.
Motor Racing Network
555 MRN Drive
Concord, NC 28027
www.mrn.com/Footer/Contact-Us.aspx
(704)262-6700
feedback@mrn.com
  • © 2015 MRN. All Rights Reserved

    FacebookTwitterDiggDeliciousLinkedInGoogle BookmarksYahoo BookmarksLive (MSN)

    ISC Track Sites