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His Victory Is for 'My Buddy Alan'

April 05, 1993|From Associated Press

BRISTOL, Tenn. — It was a weekend that began in tragedy and ended in tribute.

Rusty Wallace started from the pole and stayed in front most of the day to win the Food City 500 NASCAR race Sunday.

Then he turned his car around and drove a clockwise lap in memory of Alan Kulwicki, the defending Winston Cup champion who was killed, along with three others, in a plane crash Thursday night five miles from Bristol International Raceway.

Kulwicki introduced the wrong-way lap, which he called a "Polish victory lap," after his first NASCAR victory, at Phoenix.

"It's a bigger deal to win this for my buddy Alan," said Wallace, who had grown up in racing while competing against Kulwicki on the small tracks of the Midwest. "We miss him real bad, and I want to dedicate this race to him. I don't want my good run to overshadow what happened to him."

Kulwicki was never far from anyone's mind all weekend, bringing an extra chill to an already chilly three days along the Tennessee-Virginia border.

Wallace's plane had been about 20 minutes ahead of Kulwicki's on Thursday, landing at the Tri-Cities Airport, which serves many of the drivers. He had stayed around the airport Thursday night, hoping against hope when he heard about the crash.

Dale Earnhardt finished second, 0.82 seconds behind Wallace, in Sunday's race. He had been in the plane five minutes ahead of that of Kulwicki on Thursday.

"I congratulate Rusty and hope everybody will say a prayer for Alan and his family," Earnhardt said.

Each of the 35 cars that started the race had Kulwicki's number "7" on their windshields.

The crew of one of the race's Ford Thunderbirds covered up the "TH" to read "Underbird," which Kulwicki had done to his car for the last race of the 1992 championship season.

The pit crews and many fans wore black circular decals with a "7" inside, and some crewmen wore black arm bands.

After a long invocation in which the memory of Kulwicki was called forth, the race began with Wallace, the pole-sitter, taking charge. He led 376 of 500 laps, consistently leaving the pits first and pulling away from the pack in between the 17 caution flags at Bristol's .533-mile, high-banked oval.

He earned $107,610, including a $60,800 bonus for winning from the pole position, and averaged 84.73 m.p.h.

Geoff Bodine was involved in a multi-car wreck on Lap 286 and had to pull behind the wall.

Asked about it, he tried to put the race into perspective. "We've got a lot more serious things we're thinking about this weekend," he said. "What little problem we've got here is nothing."

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