Aging drivers who have lost their nerve or young drivers who just can't handle the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit usually find themselves dropped by sponsors. Not drivers such as Alan Kulwicki, who had a career-best season in 1990.
But sure enough Kulwicki, 36, found himself without financial backing last December, even though he had finished eighth in the 1990 Winston Cup points. That was six places higher than his previous top performances of 14th in 1988 and 1989.
"Zerex antifreeze had been my sponsor, but they decided to get out of the race car business," said Kulwicki. "The market in antifreeze wasn't that good because of the economy and the [Persian Gulf] war."
Kulwicki found himself searching for help when he should have been concentrating on driving his Ford Thunderbird in the opening races of the 1991 season.
"It set me back some," said Kulwicki, who eventually hooked on with Hooters, a national restaurant chain, in March. "And we've had some bad luck this summer, but we're back on track now. xTC blew a tire at Bristol [Bud 500 on Aug. 24] and got hit by a lap car at Darlington [Heinz Southern 500 on Sept. 1]."
Kulwicki, a Concord, N.C., resident who was born in Greenfield, Wis., bounced back from the Darlington mishap to finish sixth last week in the Miller Genuine Draft 400 in Richmond, Va.
Now Kulwicki hopes to continue the momentum in the Peak Antifreeze 500 at Dover (Del.) Downs International Speedway tomorrow at 12:10 p.m.
He edged Davey Allison for his fourth NASCAR pole of the season yesterday, as Fords grabbed the top four spots for the event.
And he did it less than two hours after he and Hooters announced a new three-year deal, putting Kulwicki in line for more financial security through potential bonuses.
"This is a great way to start the weekend off," said Kulwicki.
If Kulwicki wins the $606,000 race, he would get a $129,200 bonus for winning from the pole.
But the "Monster Mile" at Dover hasn't been overly kind to Kulwicki in his seven-year career, and he is still looking for his first victory on the track.
"I've won some poles at Dover and had chances to win," he said. "But something always seems to happen to me there."
However, Kulwicki, unlike some drivers, said he doesn't hate the prospect of driving on the highly banked turns at Dover.
"I don't really hate it or love it," said Kulwicki. "This is one place you have to be patient. You need to set a reasonable pace and have some luck. So many things can go wrong."
Kulwicki, still driving a Ford Thunderbird, is 14th this season (2,490 points behind leader Dale Earnhardt's 3,277) in the Winston Cup standings and said he will need a late rush to equal last year's eighth-place finish.
"There is still time left, but I have to get a win somewhere before the season is over," said Kulwicki, who is 11th in the Winston Cup money-winners ($412,340) this season.
Peak Antifreeze 500
What: 23rd stop in NASCAR Winston Cup Series
Where: Dover (Del.) Downs International Speedway
When: Tomorrow, 12:10 p.m.
Entries: 41 of the top drivers on the NASCAR circuit, including points leader Dale Earnhardt and outstanding drivers such as Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip, Davey Allison and veteran star Richard Petty.
At stake: First-place prize money of $83,100 and 185 Winston Cup points
Pre-race schedule: Qualifying today at 10 a.m., SplitFire Spark Plugs 200 today at 2:10 p.m.