Race Weekend Central

Only Yesterday: When We Last Saw a Hooters Car in Victory Lane

When Chase Elliott crossed the finish line at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend, he ended 32 years of futility for his primary sponsor in Hooters. The restaurant chain has adorned NASCAR Cup Series hoods and side panels off and on for over three decades but spent very little of that era in victory lane.

Hooters’ first foray into full-time sponsorship was in 1991 with owner/driver Alan Kulwicki. The company had existed for less than a decade but was growing exponentially. With Hooters on board, Kulwicki scored two wins at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first in August of that year and again in the spring of 1992. Then, in June, NASCAR thundered into Pocono Raceway for the Champion Spark Plug 500.

Races at Pocono were still 500 miles at this point and the long runs, while sustaining high RPMs, wreaked havoc on even the best engine builders. Only 25 of the 40 starters made it to the finish, with 14 of those 15 non-finishers being victimized by mechanical trouble.

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Entering the race, Davey Allison was the points leader by 28 over Dale Earnhardt. In fact, the top six were separated by just 115. Ken Schrader was on the pole in his No. 25 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Schrader had not won since the previous year and only three of the top 10 starters had a 1992 victory coming into the event.

Even Chevrolet as a whole was in the midst of one of the manufacturer’s worst NASCAR seasons. The bow tie brigade had won just two of the 12 Cup races and only three of its drivers occupied a spot in the top 17 in the standings.

The popularity boom era was in full effect as the sold-out crowd packed the stands under a sunny blue sky. For a track often plagued by rain and fog, it was a welcome sight for all in attendance.

Among those in attendance was actor William Shatner, a guest of Earnhardt for the day. Shatner watched the race from the Goodwrench pit but that pit box became decidedly less exciting when Earnhardt dropped out with engine failure after 148 laps.

The race was a rather competitive affair, with 11 drivers swapping the lead a total of 26 times and no one seemed particularly dominant. Mark Martin had the strongest car early on, leading two stretches of 24 and 27 laps in the first half. Those ended up being the longest stints front for anyone throughout the duration of the contest.

Kulwicki saw the lead for the first time on lap 69 during a cycle of green flag pit stops. He only paced the field for two circuits before heading in for service but he returned to the front at lap 86, taking the lead from Ernie Irvan. He then held the top spot for the next 22 laps.

From that point on, the lead was primarily traded between the same three drivers who put on an epic battle for the championship later that year: Kulwicki, Allison and 1988 series champion Bill Elliott.

In the closing laps, the field hit pit road for the final time with about 30 to go. Allison came in for his stop in second place but the car fell off the jack, costing the Daytona 500 winner one lap and a lot of track position. Allison rebounded to finish fifth but his chance to win had ended.

After the stops were completed, Elliott emerged with the top spot but Kulwicki was hot on his heels. Alan’s No. 7 Hooters Ford swept past Elliott on lap 181 but the lead was shortlived. Five laps later, Elliott reclaimed it but was unable to pull away from Kulwicki. Four laps went by before Kulwicki took the lead for the seventh and final time.

Kulwicki pulled away to claim his fifth career Cup win by 2.34 seconds. No one present would have ever imagined that it would be his last. The Wisconsin native went on to win the championship in an all-time classic showdown in the season finale.

NASCAR lost a great ambassador of the sport on April 1, 1993, when a plane carrying Kulwicki crashed near Bristol, TN. But NASCAR wasn’t the only entity affected. The plane was owned not by Kulwicki but by Bob Brooks, the chairman and co-founder of his sponsor Hooters. Brooks’ eldest son Mark was on the ill-fated flight, as was another Hooters executive.

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In 1996, Brooks donated $250,000 to the construction of Alan Kulwicki Memorial Park in Greenfield, WI. Despite continuing in the sport as a full-time sponsor for another nine years, Brooks did not get to see Hooters return to victory lane, as he passed away in 2006.

Interestingly enough, the driver who wound up returning Hooters to victory lane is the son of the most recent driver who was passed by the Hooters car for the win. Some things just have a way of coming full circle.

About the author

Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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Bill B

Everyone loves hooters 🙄

DoninAjax

I would say mostly men! They like to keep abreast of situations.

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