Alan Kulwicki had a contract in his hand for a major NASCAR sponsorship with Maxwell House Coffee last fall, only to see it swiped from under him by legendary car owner Junior Johnson in mid-FAX.
This afternoon, Kulwicki was to get the last laugh -- or is it hoot? At Dover International Raceway, where Kulwicki was trying to win the pole for Sunday's Peak Anti-freeze 500, Hooters of America Inc. was to announce it has signed a three-year deal with Kulwicki to run through the 1994 season.
"I haven't spent one day crying over what happened," said Kulwicki, who is as likely to kill his foes with kindness as anything else. "I'm not exactly sure how it happened. I know I was to FAX my signature and they were to FAX the contract back the next day. But it didn't come back. Within 24 hours they decided to go with Junior."
While Kulwicki was negotiating with Maxwell House, Johnson was asking Kulwicki to drive for him.
"But I thought I had a major sponsorship," recalled Kulwicki, 36. "When I found out Junior had my sponsor and they both wanted me to drive the car, I just said forget it."
It is a strange partnership between Kulwicki, who is known as Mr. Clean, and Hooters restaurants, which are known for flaunting scantily clad waitresses.
Kulwicki is soft-spoken, religious and born and raised in the Midwest.
He started this season in a camouflaged car in support of the Desert Storm troops.
Then, in Atlanta, he became the first non-sponsored car to win the pole since J.D. McDuffie did it at Dover in 1977. Hooters asked him to carry its logo for that race.
"We did pretty well and they extended it to three races, but when they suggested we do the season, I had to think about it," Kulwicki said.
"A lot of people think this is a topless bar," he said yesterday, sitting in Hooters at the Inner Harbor. "Sometimes if the general public perceives something one way, even if it isn't, it's better to leave it alone.
"I was trying to have a clean cut, All-American image for whatever sponsor came along, so I thought about it hard. But, in the end, you do what you have to do to survive."