Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.

Throwback Thursday Theater: Wallace Pays Tribute to Fallen Friend at Bristol

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

When it comes to dark moments in NASCAR history, the April 1993 weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway ranks right up near the top. With the tragedy of losing Alan Kulwicki far too soon reaching its 25th anniversary this year, we look back at the weekend that was at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile.

Kulwicki was on top of the world after the 1992 season, having beaten the odds to hoist the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship trophy following a thrilling season finale. As both the owner and driver of his team, Kulwicki was the last of those to be able to conquer the sport and reign as champion.

Entering the 1993 season, Kulwicki was looking to keep the momentum going and was doing just that, scoring three top-six finishes in the first five races of the year before heading to his most successful track, Bristol, where he had claimed two wins in the fall of 1991 and the spring of 1992.

A few days before the Food City 500, Kulwicki and a handful of representatives from his sponsor, Hooters, would head off to Knoxville, TN for an appearance before heading back to Bristol to get ready for Sunday’s race.

Unfortunately for Kulwicki, that trip would be his last.

While on approach back to Tri-Cities Regional Airport, about a half-hour from the track, Kulwicki’s plane encountered icing conditions that resulted in ice being ingested into the engines, followed by a stall, sending the plane into a steep descent, where it would ultimately crash. All four souls aboard, including Kulwicki perished in the accident.

When race day rolled around under gray and overcast skies, Kulwicki’s team hauler was outfitted with a black wreath on the front of it as they made a pre-race lap in salute of the former champion and the others lost before pulling out of the race track one final time.

Once the race got underway, it was fitting that one of Kulwicki’s longtime friends, Rusty Wallace, would come away as the victor.

Wallace, who started from the pole, dominated the event, leading 376 laps and holding off Dale Earnhardt and Kyle Petty for the win. After taking the checkered flag, Wallace paid tribute to his fallen friend by driving around the track backwards to do Kulwicki’s famous “Polish Victory Lap.”

“It’s almost tearful,” Wallace said. “I wanted to win this race so bad. I was so mad when Alan got killed that I told the team I was going to try and win this thing for them. Boy, it was pretty intense today and I did that. When I took that thing and I looped that baby around and did the Alan Kulwicki victory lap, I was so proud for them.

“To Paul Andrews and his whole crew and all of his friends and stuff, this isn’t for the Miller Genuine Draft team, it’s for you guys because we miss you bad.

“I’m real happy with my team, but I’m sure not going to let this good run overshadow my buddy.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.