After claiming the 1992 Winston Cup Championship trophy in his Hooters Ford, owner - driver Alan Kulwicki had precious little time to enjoy the fruits of his labor, to bask in the glory of winning motor sport's most prestigious award.

His life ended in April of 1993 when the private plane on which he was a passenger crashed on the approach to Tri-Cities Airport, near Bristol, Tennessee. He was on his way to defend the winner's title in the spring race at Bristol International Raceway.

But no one will ever forget the satisfaction that Alan Kulwicki had when he claimed the Winston Cup title in the final race of the season in Atlanta. It was truly a season of vindication for Kulwicki, who had beaten the odds to win.

Discounted throughout the season, and expected to fade from contention during the stretch run to the championship, Kulwicki and his hard-working crew came from 278 points behind with just six races left in the season to claim the title.

Kulwicki won twice in 1992, taking the Pocono's first race in addition to Bristol, but it was his consistency that earned he and his crew the title. He was never out of the Top-five in points after winning at Bristol in April. In the final race of the year, he battled Bill Elliott lap after lap and after clinching the ten bonus points for leading the most laps, he settled for second place behind Elliott, but won the crown by ten points, the closest margin in NASCAR history.

Kulwicki's title was the first for an owner/driver since Richard Petty in 1981; Petty's seventh and final championship. But Kulwicki didn't have the backing that Petty enjoyed. There were times when Kulwicki, as well as others, wondered if they would ever make it on racing's premier series, much less sit at the head table in New York. In his rookie season of 1986, Alan had only one car, and had to struggle to make it from race to race.

Finally in 1991, full-time sponsorship came from Hooters Restaurants, and Kulwicki could concentrate on the job at hand. "There were a lot of people who thought we couldn't win a championship, who thought we were too small," said Kulwicki. "Well, I don't have a big team, but I guess this proves we are effective."

Kulwicki's career ended with Five Winston Cup victories and more than five million dollars in winnings.

Alan Kulwicki … The Fans' Favorite as the 1996 Talladega - Texaco Walk of Fame "Inactive Category" Inductee.

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