Noted Wisconsin short-track racer Alan Kulwicki moved to Charlotte in 1984 with nothing but a pickup truck, a self-built race car and the hopes of competing in NASCAR’s highest series. He had no sponsor and a limited budget.
- Inducted: 2019
The Polish Prince
A mechanical engineer by trade, Kulwicki’s understanding of the inner-workings of a car helped him burst onto the scene as the 1986 NASCAR Rookie of the Year with his self-owned AK Racing team.
Throughout his career, Kulwicki received lucrative offers from powerhouse race teams, but insisted on racing for himself. That determination eventually led to his first of five career victories at Phoenix in 1988, and the unveiling of his trademark “Polish Victory Lap,” a celebratory clockwise cool down lap with the driver’s window facing the fans.
His signature season was his championship-winning 1992 campaign, where Kulwicki overcame a 278-point deficit with six races remaining to capture the NASCAR premier series title. He had two wins, 11 top fives and 17 top 10s to defeat Bill Elliott by 10 points—at the time, the tightest championship margin in series history.
Kulwicki never got the chance to defend his title, dying in a plane crash in 1993. Five years after his death, he was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.
Alan Kulwicki parlays what was supposed to be a one-race sponsorship from Quincy’s Steak House into a season-long deal that allows him to win NASCAR premier series Rookie of the Year honors. Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images.
After winning his first NASCAR premier series race, Alan Kulwicki electrifies the Phoenix crowd by introducing the “Polish Victory Lap” so he can see the faces of race fans in the grandstand. Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images.
In a true storybook ending, Alan Kulwicki and his small team of crew members wins the championship in the final race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Photo by ISC Archives via Getty Images.