Friday, April 28, 2006

How the hell did he do that?

They're having Dale Earnhardt Day on Saturday in Mooresville, marking what would have been the seven-time champion's 55th birthday.
I am sure the people who come to Dale Earnhardt Inc. headquarters, where NBC News anchor Brian Williams will be joining Teresa Earnhardt in leading the ceremony marking the occasion, will enjoy themselves. I'll be at Talladega Superspeedway, though, and when you really think about it, that's as good of a place as any to remember Earnhardt by.
It's hard to go to Daytona without thinking about Earnhardt, of course. His Daytona 500 victory there in 1998 and Jack Nicklaus' win in the 1986 Masters are the two most memorable events I've had the privilege of covering in my career.
Daytona is also where I saw Earnhardt have as much fun as I ever saw him have, running in the Rolex 24 just a couple of weeks before the crash in which he was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500.
But Talladega was a place where I got to see Earnhardt do something that amazed even Earnhardt - his victory in the 2000 Winston 500. That would turn out to be his final victory in a Cup race, which makes what happened on that October afternoon that much more memorable.
In an effort to give the drivers more throttle response with their restrictor-plate engines, NASCAR gave teams plates with 1-inch openings for that weekend's activities. But after second-round qualifying on Saturday morning, the drivers were called into a meeting and they emerged with plates featuring openings that were one-sixteenth of an inch smaller.
In practice that morning, before the swap, Bobby Labonte had turned a lap at 198.475 mph. That was too fast for NASCAR's liking, so they made the controversial move to reduce the plate openings before "happy hour" and for the race.
"I don't know who it favors," Earnhardt said after the meeting. "They made the change, that's what it's all about. It's not going to change the drivers going four wide. That's what they were talking about in the meeting. You've got to use your head."
In the race the next day, Earnhardt was 15th on a restart with just 15 laps to go. His first parry failed, and in two laps he fell back to 23rd. When he crossed the scoring line to complete Lap 183, with just five laps remaining, he was 18th.
And then it happened. Kenny Wallace had new tires on his car. He and Joe Nemechek, who then were teammates for Andy Petree's operation, hooked up and as they started toward the front Earnhardt pulled down in front of them.
"It was like I had turbos," Wallace said. Earnhardt went from 16th at the start of Lap 185 to eighth at the end of it. The next time by, he was in front of the pack chasing leaders Dale Earnhardt Jr., John Andretti and Mike Skinner and Benny Parsons, on ESPN, was screaming "Where did HE come from?"
The Earnhardt-Wallace-Nemechek train kept coming. Coming to the white flag, Earnhardt passed Skinner, who'd picked up the lead after Earnhardt Jr. bobbled when he got down on the apron off Turn 4.
After being 18th with five to go, Earnhardt spent the last lap playing defense to HOLD ONTO the lead. Which, of course, he did.
Back then, before NASCAR completely rolled over and played dead for the broadcast media in how it conducts postrace interviews, the race winner at Talladega came to the press box to be interviewed after completing victory lane ceremonies and the ridiculous photo "hat dance."
At Talladega, that required putting the winner in a van and, with a police escort, driving him around the track under the grandstands to the press box, which is just above track level there in front of pit road in the Turn 4 end of the trioval.
But the time Earnhardt got to the press box that day, a couple thousand fans had gathered on the concourse to greet him. When he climbed out of the van, it was as though he was Caesar and he'd just returned to Rome from his conquests. The chants of "EARN-HARDT! EARN-HARDT!" were so loud you could barely hear in the press box with the doors shut, and had no chance to hear anything when they were opened to let him in.
No matter what you might think, reporters aren't idiots. We all knew we'd seen Earnhardt write another chapter to his legend that day. We couldn't wait to get him to talk about it, to tell us how he did something most of us couldn't believe even though we'd just seen it. I begged the moderator of the postrace interview to call on me first that day, and that wish was granted.
Earnhardt sat down, took the microphone and grinned that little goofy grin of his at us. "The first question comes from David Poole," the moderator said. Earnhardt looked at me and I said, "Earnhardt, how in the hell did you do that?"
He had no idea.
"To think anybody could come from as far back in the field as we were and win this race is beyond me," he said. "You saw it. I couldn't believe it."
Two days later that DEI called a press conference at the team headquarters in Mooresville to announce that Earnhardt and Earnhardt Jr. would drive in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the following year.
I walked in and Earnhardt was standing there talking to someone. He motioned a couple of us over and said he'd watched the videotape and figured out some of how he'd made it from 18th to first in four laps and won that race.
As he talked, he used his hands to demonstrate each move he made and how he made it pay off.
I looked at Earnhardt and said, "Well, it's still one of the damndest things I've ever seen anybody do." And to this day, it still is.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why shouldn't NASCAR give short-track 'choose' rule a shot?

Sometimes the best ideas are the ones you steal. I think NASCAR needs to steal something from short-track racing.
I saw this in practice Saturday when I went to the Colossal 100 at The Dirt Track @ Lowe's Motor Speedway and watched legend Scott Bloomquist win the race and a $50,000 first prize.
It's a common practice at other short tracks, too, and involves the use of a "CHOOSE" sign for restarts.
Anytime the race is slowed for a caution, a lap or two before the green flies again the field is shown the "Choose" sign. At that point, the leader must decide if he wants to line up on the inside or the outside for the double-file restart.
The second-place driver then makes the same choice - he can line up behind the leader or pull alongside to start on the outside of the front row.
If the first two guys go to the inside, the third-place guy can get behind them or go to the outside. The choosing continues right on back through the field. Sometimes this can really shake up the lineup. Drivers have to make quick decisions because once you pull into a line, that's it, and it's time for the next guy to decide.
It adds an element of strategy to the races. So the more I think about it, the more I wonder why that wouldn't be a good thing for NASCAR to take a look at for its big-time races, too.
Now I know for a fact that the idea of double-file restarts for lead-lap cars has at least been discussed at NASCAR's top levels as recently as last year.
In such a plan, cars on the lead lap would all start ahead of lapped cars. If you're going to keep the free pass for the first car a lap down, that allows one driver per caution to make up a lap lost earlier.
Besides, if you're a lap down you got that way because other cars were faster or you had a problem, and that's too bad.
As far as I know, the idea didn't get too far and those who were talking about it would have had the second-place car line up automatically beside first place and so forth like they would at the start of a race.
But how interesting would it be to see NASCAR go to two-wide restarts after all cautions and employ the "choose" rule at the same time?
There are tracks where the leader would likely pick the outside. There are tracks where second, third and even fourth might stay in a preferred line and leave the fifth-place guy a chance to move all the way up in the other lane if he was willing to take the gamble.
It would be fascinating, and it would add another element to races. You'd have to keep restarts single file in the final 10 laps the way they are now. You might even extend that to the final 25 laps, since a guy who's leading that late in the race deserves to keep that advantage that deep into an event.
If nothing else, going to a rule that puts all lead-lap cars at the front of the field ahead of the lapped cars would keep television announcers from telling us every time there's a restart that a guy who's in 14th place is really in more like 28th for restart with the lapped cars to the inside.
More than that, it would have the best cars racing each other more often in a race, and that's the kind of competition that has made NASCAR as popular as it is.
The perfect race to try this would be the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge next month at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
I know that won't happen, since such a change would be too radical to happen that soon.
Maybe next year. Or maybe it could be tried out in the Truck Series at some point, just so fans and drivers could get used to the concept at the NASCAR level. Or maybe somebody can explain to me why it wouldn't work at racing's top levels, even though it seems to work just fine on hundreds of tracks all over the country every week.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Stop me if you've heard this one about racers as athletes ...

Every once in a while a story will pop up somewhere about how NASCAR is not a sport, or somebody looking for a little bit of attention will spout off about how race car drivers are not athletes.
It'll even come up every once in a while in a setting where people ought to know better. Last year, when I was doing a regular weekly NASCAR segment on ESPN's "Cold Pizza," a regular contributor on that show named Skip Bayless started in on the whole racers aren't athletes thing.
Bayless, and I am paraphrasing here, basically said that any competitor who doesn't have to run while competing is not an athlete. That, of course, is poppycock. By his definition, swimmers are not athletes. Neither are skiers, nor hockey players.
They don't "run" while competing, do they?
That's an arbitrary definition of what makes an athlete, and it just doesn't work. In countering that argument, I made this analogy - if a guy who plays guitar with incredible skill and talent cannot play the piano, does that mean he's not a musician?
There are many, many types of musical talent. Someone who plays the French horn in a symphony orchestra might not be able to play the fiddle for a country music band, but both of them have musical talent and ability.
Those guys in the "Blue Man Group" or the ones who wham on garbage cans in "Stomp" are immensely talented and skilled, but their performances hardly fit any classical definition of music. That doesn't make what they do any less entertaining for those who enjoy it.
I went to and looked up the word "sport." Here's the most pertinent meaning given there: "An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively."
Without question, driving a race car involves physical exertion and skill. And the definition of "athlete" fits, too.
"A person possessing the natural or acquired traits, such as strength, agility, and endurance, that are necessary for physical exercise or sports, especially those performed in competitive contexts."
The skills it takes to be a NASCAR driver are specific, in many cases, to the sport itself. But that's true of just about any sport. Each game requires its own level of things like hand-to-eye coordination, vision, concentration and, yes, physical ability.
A racer doesn't necessarily have to be able to run a mile or throw a baseball without looking uncoordinated, but he does need strength and agility and reflexes in various aspects of his job.
It's not the same skill set as a basketball player, but it's still a set of athletic skills.
Football fans should be able to understand this as well as anybody. That game has become so specialized at the highest levels, but even at its most basic football is a game where certain positions require certain skills.
A good offensive lineman can have quickness without having raw speed. Receivers must know how to catch, to run patterns, to improvise when a play breaks down and to block when that's what a play requires.
Does a defensive back need to know how to kick a 35-yard field goal to be a good football player? Of course not. So let's put this argument to rest, shall we?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

It's time to punch in on the NASCAR media's night shift

At some point last year, I think it was in early August, a couple of us who cover NASCAR for a living were sitting around grumbling - as we're wont to do - about a difficult upcoming stretch for us.
We had the Bristol night race followed by a race that ended under the lights at California leading into the September night at Richmond.
Fans love night races, but reporters hate them. Forget about time zones, the only clock that matters is the one clicking at your newspaper's office. And when it gets to the witching hour called "deadline," that clock waits for no man or event.
Before this Algonquin roundtable of the motorsports media adjourned, we reckoned that it'd do us the most possible good if we all just set our personal watches and our body clocks to Pacific time for the duration of that stretch. We reasoned that since an 8 p.m. start at Bristol and Richmond and a 5 p.m. start in California were all exactly the same in terms of East Coast time, we'd all get a lot more sleep and have a better chance of knowing whether to order pancakes or a patty melt when we stumbled into a Denny's because it was the only place we could be reasonably sure would be open at whatever point we had the time to get something other than race track lasagna to eat.
I bring this up again after it hit me the other day that between now and the end of May there's only one true daytime Nextel Cup racing event scheduled. Aside from the Aaron's 499 at Talladega on April 30, we'll all be working the night shift for the next six weeks. Saturday's race starts around 5:25 p.m. local time in Phoenix, which is 8:30 in "the real world" as those of us with Eastern deadlines call it.
After a Sunday afternoon race at Talladega, you've got Richmond, then Darlington and then two weeks of prime-time activities at Charlotte, which when you work for the Charlotte Observer is otherwise known as "hell weeks."
I laugh when people during Charlotte weeks say, "Well, you do get to sleep in your own bed."
Sure, but that's all I do at home on those weekends. I leave the house mid-morning and get home, at the earliest, at midnight. If I see my wife and family, it's because I've woke them up or they're sick and can't sleep.
I'm skipping this week's race in Phoenix, but not because I don't want to do a night race.
My wife, Katy, is having a knee operation and I sort of felt like it'd be bad form to be 2,500 miles away when she couldn't walk.
After Talladega though, I think I might try the Pacific time thing for the May stretch. If I can just get everybody else to back their clocks up three hours, too, I'll be set.
Surely the neighbors would be willing to delay yard work until noon or so. And it'd probably be easy to get the banks to stay open until around 8 p.m. for me over those weeks. If I could just get that dang clock at the Observer's office set back three hours, I'd be golden.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Women are women and men are, well, sorry

It seemed like took Robin Pemberton a while on Wednesday to believe he actually was even being asked the question.

But after a few minutes, he realized that there are people who really did want to know if NASCAR planned to take any disciplinary action against Nicole Lunders, the girlfriend of driver Greg Biffle, for what she did Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

After first saying, "it's Easter, can't you give me a break?" the NASCAR vice president for competition said this: "There will be some conversations that will be had with the people that participated, and we'll make sure that this doesn't carry on and into the garage or anywhere else. You've got to remember, most everybody in the garage area are friends, and those two girls in particular have a close relationship. Tempers flare, and we'll look at that and we'll make sure it doesn't carry on any further than that."

In other words, "it's Easter, can you give me a break?"

Look, I know what I said after the Jeff Gordon-Matt Kenseth postrace shove at Bristol, about how NASCAR can't let things like that go without a fine because you never know where one shove might lead after a race when a lot of angry guys might be running around. But come on.

Actually, there is one thing that absolutely has to be done about Lunders going to Kurt Busch's pit stall to vent her anger to Eva Bryan, Kurt Busch's fiancée, about the contact from Busch's car that sent Biffle spinning.

Somebody needs to get the video clip of their confrontation, put Tammy Wynette singing "Stand By Your Man" behind it and get it on the NextelVision video screens at the track by next weekend at Phoenix.

If Lunders had gone in swinging a tire iron, then NASCAR would have had to do something about it. But if you think that's the first time the significant others of two race car drivers have ever exchanged words about an on-track incident, you're not only very single you probably don't have sisters, either.

That goes on a lot back in the motor home lot, which is the drivers' little world that those of us in the media all sort of keep our noses out of because we know better than to get in those messes.

If a woman cares about her man enough to follow him all over the country staying in a motor home - and I don't care how nice that motor home is, it still ain't the Ritz-Carlton - you know she's going to be there for him when the chips are down.

Some race fans seem a little irked, for instance, by the fact that DeLana Harvick wears a fire suit and sits on top of her husband, Kevin's, pit box. Let me tell you this, if there's ever a fight around me in the pit area, you can bet your backside that I'll know which side DeLana's on before I declare my allegiance.

A few years back, I decided it'd be a good idea to write a column advising Darrell Waltrip that it was time for him to hang up his driving helmet. I meant him no ill will, honestly, I just thought he was tarnishing his reputation by continuing.

I later recanted that article when DW ran well in a car owned by Dale Earnhardt Inc. But on the morning it ran, we were at Darlington Raceway and there were actually people who had been tasked to make sure that I didn't accidentally cross paths with Darrell's wife, Stevie, that morning.

Stevie, you see, wanted to a piece of me for that column. And I have no doubt in my mind that if she'd gotten hold of me, it would not have been pretty.

Look, here's the deal. Men are, well, men are sorry. We are. We're just plain sorry. Whenever we see two women get a little bit crossways with each other, that "c-c-c-c-cat-fight!" blood starts pumping. Don't bother denying it.

To hear some people talk about what happened Sunday at Texas, you'd think one girl snatched up a handful of another's hair and drug her into one of those little plastic swimming pools filled with lime Jell-O. Actually, that very well might have happened somewhere in the campgrounds during the weekend.

But it did not happen in Kurt Busch's pit - no matter how many times you sorry men try to imagine it did.

Friday, April 07, 2006

They call it 'control,' but there are other words for it

It pains me to say this, but Chuck Howard is absolutely right.

Howard is the sports anchor on the NBC affiliate in Charlotte, and even he'd tell you that his ego doesn't need any more stroking. But in our newspaper the other day he spelled out his objections to a new NFL policy that will remove local stations' cameras from the sidelines at the league's games, and he was on the money.

Under the new policy, your local station will be allowed to use highlights only from network telecasts or NFL Films crews. The real problem, though, goes deeper than that.

The local stations' crews won't be allowed on the sidelines to film during the games, so that means nobody who isn't writing the NFL a check will have cameras on what's happening on the field and on the sidelines during the games.

The networks have a lot of cameras at a game, and your local affiliate might have had one or two shooters working the sidelines. But those one or two guys, at least the good ones, have their eye out for local stories the networks might not be interested in.

If the Houston Texans are playing at New England, for example, the network's cameras are far more likely to be shooting a close-up of Patriots player than following what's happening on the Houston sidelines. That stinks for Texans fans.

You're probably asking yourself what it the heck I'm doing spouting off about this. Valid question. First, before I started covering NASCAR I wrote columns and television and radio sports for the Observer. Second, those of us who cover racing came up against a battle like this a few years back when NASCAR asked us all to sign what came to be known as "Article 4" in applying for our annual credentials.

Without any kind of warning or discussion, NASCAR slipped language into the form we all turn in to get our "hard cards" basically saying that anything written, said, heard, shot or basically even thought of at the track was NASCAR's "property." That February, there was a space shuttle launch that could be seen clearly from the track, and we all joked that in NASCAR's view that made the shuttle its "intellectual property."

But it was no joking matter.

Like the NFL this time around, NASCAR said it was merely trying to "protect" its broadcast partners' rights. In racing's case, though, NASCAR was trying to squeeze as many people out of making a buck of the sport as they could so it could get all those dollars.

That is, indeed, the NASCAR way. The media fought back on "Article 4" and largely its provisions were withdrawn. There are some parts of that debate that are valid, of course. If a network is paying millions of dollars for the rights to live broadcasts of NASCAR races or NFL games or the NCAA tournament or The Masters, those rights should be protected.

But if a station in Dallas or Fort Worth comes to Texas Motor Speedway, it should be allowed to shoot action as it sees fit as long as it uses that footage properly. A local station can't, for instance, repackage the footage it takes as a race and sell DVDs including that footage. But it can use it on its news shows to amplify and supplement the network highlights it also has the right to use.

In both the NASCAR and the NFL situations, local photographers, writers, videographers and on-air talent are there to represent their viewers and readers and to present parts of the story that might not otherwise be covered.

If the league or sanctioning body controls all of that, it by default controls what's being reported about its sport.

NASCAR would absolutely LOVE to have an arrangement like that. But as fans, trust me, you don't.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Not to complain, but this rankings thing isn't the corner piece of the cake with all the icing

Each week, usually several hours after a Nextel Cup race before I leave the track, I do the rankings of the top 40 teams in Nextel Cup for the web site and the weekly syndicated page that runs in a bunch of newspapers across the country, including the Charlotte Observer.

To say this process is an inexact science would be to make a gross understatement.

I've got no idea how long we've been doing them - probably eight years, since the TR site debuted around the time of the 1998 Daytona 500. I am pretty sure we've been doing the rankings since we started the site.

However long it has been, not much has changed about how they're done. I take the previous week's rankings and change the name of the race and the track for which they were done. I update the previous week's ranking for each driver. I find the printouts of the finish of that day's race and of the updated points standings. And then I start trying to decide which teams to move up or move down and how far.

I know that sounds pretty simple. Trust me, it's not.

First, you've got to decide which team is at that moment the best in the sport. Usually, to be honest, that's pretty clear - especially when you get deep into a season. The guy leading the points is there for a reason, and unless there's a pretty compelling case to make somebody else's team No. 1, that's usually a pretty good place to start.

Not always, though.

If, for instance, a guy has won three races in a row and moved from seventh in the points to second or third, you have to think about him - especially if you think the points leader is racing defensively trying to hold on to his lead. I always try very hard to put a premium on winning races, too.

I've gone through spells where I've refused to rank drivers who haven't won a race ahead of anybody who has. Still, once we're about 20 races into a season, I am far more likely to have a guy with three wins who's 10th in the points ahead of somebody with now wins who's fifth.

This sport ought be more about who wins races than it is now. A fan who buys a ticket for this week's race at Texas Motor Speedway is coming there that day to see people try to win.

It drives me nuts to hear people talking about "the big picture" when referring to a car running in the top five. When you've got chances to win, that's what you're out there to do. The championship should not be an end-all trump card in every situation.

But before I get off on my rant about a 500-point bonus for a driver's first win and first win in the Chase, an idea I still believe in, let's get back to the rankings.

Every single week I've ever done the top 40, there comes a point in the rankings where I reach an impossible situation. Usually it falls somewhere between about 15th and 25th. That day, a driver or two has done well and scored a top-five or top-10 finish and you want to move them up.

But the drivers who've been ahead of them all season finished in the top 15, too, and you can't very well move them down. Since you can't move someone up without moving someone down, that's an impossible situation.

Most of the time when I am up against that, I try to decide that if I had to bet real money on who'd wind up ahead of whom in the points at season's end, which team would I pick? That doesn't work in every situation, but the whole point of the rankings is to rate the teams based on their season's performance and their potential for success.

Frequently I get emails from fans of a driver questioning me on where their favorite is ranked. Often, the fans find a driver or two, or six, ahead of their favorite and give me a cogent, well-reasoned argument why his guy should be ahead of them. Sometimes, I run across such situations myself, figuring out that three or four weeks in a row a guy has slid a spot or two and suddenly I've let him get too low.

So a driver might finish 13th one week and jump four or five spots. That means the fans of the drivers he jumps over are firing off emails, demanding to know why. And the cycle begins again.

It's always a humbling experience to do each year's final rankings, because I go back and put beside each driver's name where I had that team ranked in the preseason. Last year, seven of my preseason top 10 were also there at season's end, but No. 2 Greg Biffle was 12th before the season and No. 3 Carl Edwards was 18th. Rusty Wallace started the year 16th but finished 10th.
None of that, however, is anywhere nearly as bad as my biggest rankings blunder ever.

In doing the preseason rankings in 2000, I typed in all of the full-time teams and started shuffling them around, moving a couple up and a couple down. Somewhere amid that cutting and pasting, I deleted the No. 10 car driven then by Johnny Benson.

Now Benson's team, led by crew chief James Ince, was starting that year without a sponsor. Unsponsored teams don't live long in Nextel Cup, so they weren't going to be in the top 25 anyway. But there's now way I wouldn't have had that team in the top 40 unless I'd just simply deleted them and not noticed they were gone.

I got to Daytona for media day that year and Drew Brown, the team's PR rep, asked me nicely why I didn't have the team in the top 40. "Sure I do," I said. But no, I had omitted them. So all during Speedweeks, I was taking grief from Ince and Brown and even, a little bit, from the soft-spoken Benson.

And then, in the Daytona 500, with a handful of laps to go, guess who was leading? Dale Jarrett came back to win that race. Benson finished 12th and the next week, I think I put him in the top 10.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Remembering Alan Kulwicki, a guy who really did do it his way

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - When you're on the road as much as you have to be to cover the Nextel Cup circuit it gets kind of hard to keep up with things like dates.
It wasn't until mid-morning Saturday that I realized it was April 1. Which means it was the 13th anniversary of the plane crash in which Alan Kulwicki was killed.
Ironically, a couple of other writers and myself had decided last week that we'd cut out after Saturday's Truck race here and go over to South Boston Speedway to see the USAR Hooters Pro Cup series race at that historic track.
The Hooters series is backed by Bob Brooks, the owner of the Hooters restaurant chain. Brooks' company, of course, sponsored Kulwicki's No. 7 Fords in NASCAR, and his son, Mark, was one of the people who died along with Kulwicki in that crash near the Tri-Cities airport near Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport, Tenn.
I wasn't covering NASCAR the night Kulwicki's plane went down. I was working at the Charlotte Observer, on the sports desk, though, and I remember it vividly. The phone started ringing that night with people asking if we knew anything. After about three or four calls, we all started looking at each other and saying, "Uh-oh."
Before long, there was word that a plane was indeed down. From that point on, it just became surreal.
Kulwicki's championship in 1992 had been such a remarkable story. And now, he was gone. In our paper the next morning, the story said that Kulwicki and four others had been killed in that crash.
That's because that until very late on that tragic night it was believed that a man named Tom Roberts was on the plane, but he wasn't.
Roberts was Kulwicki's public relations man, and he'd made a late decision not to attend an appearance in Knoxville that night with the driver. That's where Kulwicki and the three others were coming from when the plane went down. Tom is still working in NASCAR - he worked with Rusty Wallace for years and now is the PR guy for Kurt Busch and the No. 2 team - and right after I got on this beat he and I started talking one day about Kulwicki's championship and the 1992 Hooters 500, the final race of that year in Atlanta, and how remarkable that race was.
I wrote a story on that race, in which Kulwicki, Bill Elliott and Davey Allison battled for the championship and Richard Petty drove his final Cup event and Jeff Gordon drove his first, for the newspaper and decided there was so much more to write about it. The led to the first racing book I wrote, which is called "Race With Destiny."
The company that published it went bankrupt about the time it came out, so the book never got any distribution. I'm still proud of the book and hope one day I can somehow rescue it from the financial limbo it's stuck in and get it back on the shelves.
Hardly a weekend goes by when somebody in the NASCAR garage doesn't mention how different the sport might be today if Kulwicki, Allison, Tim Richmond and Rob Moroso had been able to realize their full potential before being cut down by tragedy.
It was 20 years ago this year when Kulwicki left Wisconsin and came south to chase his dreams. The fact that he won the championship just six years later is just one of the many amazing things about his life. There'll never be another one quite like him.