MRN Flashback: Wallace Honors Kulwicki

Rusty Wallace 1993

Although Rusty Wallace had 10 wins in 1993, The Food City 500 at Bristol may have ben the most emotional. (Photo: ISC Archives)

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Thursday, April 1, 1993 was a cold, damp night in Northeast Tennessee. Nobody could have predicted just how much colder and darker that night would become.

Alan Kulwicki won the Food City 500 at what was then known as Bristol International Raceway on the way to capturing the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion. On the night before he was due to begin the defense of his Bristol win, Kulwicki was making a personal appearance for his sponsor, Hooters Restaurant, in Knoxville, Tenn., around 100 miles to the west of Bristol.

Kulwicki finished the appearance and climbed aboard his plane for a short flight to Tri-Cities Regional Airport, and hopefully a good night’s sleep before turning his attention to racing. He never arrived in Bristol as ice built up on the wings causing the twin-engine plane to crash on final approach to the airport. There were no survivors.

The next morning, there were few dry eyes, if any, as Kulwicki’s hauler was packed up and took a lap around the Bristol half-mile, passing under the checkered flag before exiting.

Rusty Wallace had just completed his first full season in NASCAR’s premiere series when Kulwicki made the move to NASCAR from the American Speed Association in 1985. They already knew each other, having chased ASA trophies across the Midwestern states. Perhaps it was fitting that Wallace captured the pole for the 1993 Food City 500 on the day after Kulwicki’s death.

Two days later, every one of the 35 cars that started the race were carrying No. 7 decals in honor of the fallen champion.

Outside pole sitter Brett Bodine took the lead from Wallace on the start, but the Missouri native wouldn’t be kept out of the lead for long. He took the top spot for the first time on the fifth lap.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, cautions were a frequent occurrence at Bristol. This race was no exception. Wallace took the lead for the final time when the field went back to green after the day’s 14th caution period. Wallace led the final quarter of the race, but had to survive three more caution periods before beating another acknowledged Bristol master to the finish line. Dale Earnhardt was nearly one second behind at the finish.

After taking the checkered flag, Wallace turned his Roger Penske-owned Pontiac around, and took a “Polish Victory Lap”, renewing the celebration Kulwicki used beginning with his first Cup victory at Phoenix just over four years before.

Wallace got a bonus for winning the race from the pole. Although the victory and the money were big things, they were not the most important.

“It’s a big deal,” Wallace told MRN Radio pit reporter Dick Brooks in Victory Lane. “But it’s a bigger deal to win this race for my buddy Alan and do the reverse victory lap shuffle like he always did and was so wonderful at doing. We miss him real bad and I want to dedicate this race to him and to his crew and his whole entire family and close friends.

“I don’t want my good run to overshadow what happened to him. We’re good right now. The crew’s really good and we’re doing the best job we possibly can with this Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac.”

Bristol was Wallace’s second win of 1993. He followed it up with victories in the next two events at North Wilkesboro and Martinsville. Although he took a total of 10 wins in 1993, Wallace lost the season championship to Earnhardt by 80 points.

This week’s edition of MRN Flashback Friday will recall one of NASCAR’s darkest and most emotional weekends. Barney Hall and Eli Gold lead the MRN Radio coverage team for the 1993 Food City 500 from Bristol. You can hear all the action beginning at Noon (ET) Friday exclusively on MotorRacingNetwork.com.

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  • Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race - Bristol
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  • From the Archives: Bristol
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