Alan Dennis Kulwicki, nicknamed 'Special K' or the 'Polish Prince', was an American NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing driver. He was killed in a plane crash returning from a promotional appearance at the Bristol Motor Speedway in the Hooters corporate jet.
Alan Kulwicki was born in Greenfield, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. He raced on local dirt tracks and in the ASA, and won the 1973 Rookie of the Year award at Hales Corners Speedway in Frankin, also a Milwaukee suburb.
Alan received a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Many attribute his success to his knowledge of engineering which at the time was of less value than experience and intuition. In 1985 Alan sold most of his belongings (except a pickup truck and a trailer) to move from NASCAR to the southern United States. An electrical fire two days before he left destroyed his truck and trailer.
Kulwicki made his first start near the end of the 1985 season for Bill Terry. In 1986, Kulwicki could not find a ride, so he fielded his first Winston Cup racing team as owner and driver. With just two cars, two engines, and two full-time crew members, he won Winston Cup Rookie of the Year.
In 1988 he won his first NASCAR race at Phoenix International Raceway. He turned around his car, and made his now famous "Polish Victory Lap" by driving the wrong way on the track (driver's side toward the fans). He got in trouble with NASCAR officials.
The final race of the 1992 season was one of the most eventful in NASCAR history. It was the final race for Richard Petty, the first race for Jeff Gordon, and five drivers were capable to win the championship that day. Kulwicki received approval from NASCAR and Ford to change the "Thunderbird" lettering on his bumper for the race to "Underbird" because he felt like the underdog for winning the championship. He finished second in the race (behind winner Bill Elliott). Most of the other five drivers had trouble, and Kulwicki became the 1992 Winston Cup Champion. He spun around his car and did his only other Polish Victory Lap.
His 10 point championship over Elliott was the closest in NASCAR history. Kulwicki won the championship by leading one more lap than Elliott (103 to 102). This championship was a noteworthy accomplishment for several other reasons: he was the last Winston Cup winner who served as both driver and owner of his car/team, the first Winston Cup winner with a college degree, and the first Winston Cup winner not born in a southern state. Elliott gave Kulwicki a golden comb at the awards banquet as a spoof to Kulwicki's habit of combing his hair after leaving his racecar. The song played at the awards banquet was "My Way".
During his six-year Winston Cup career, Kulwicki won five Winston Cup races and earned 24 pole positions. Tragically, Kulwicki was killed at age 38 in a plane crash on April 1, 1993, near Blountville, Tennessee, while returning in a Hooters corporate jet from an appearance prior to spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Three days after Kulwicki's death, Bristol race winner Rusty Wallace honored his old short track foe by turning Kulwicki's trademark reverse "Polish Victory Lap". Every winner for the remainder of the season honored Kulwicki with a Polish victory lap. Also for the remainder of the 1993 season, all cars entered in Winston Cup and Busch Series races carried stickers of Kulwicki's stylized #7 on their left and right B-posts (the center post between the two side windows).
Upon Davey Allison's death, Kulwicki's #7 was joined by the stylized #28 from Allison's car. After the final race of the season, series champion Dale Earnhardt and race winner Wallace drove a side by side Polish victory lap carrying flags for fallen heroes Kulwicki and Davey Allison. For much of the remainder of the 1990's, NASCAR and non-NASCAR drivers alike continued the tradition of executing a Polish Victory Lap following a race or championship win.