This Week in Ford Racing March 21, 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series An historic NASCAR Ford race car will return to the track this weekend when the Thunderbird driven to two victories by Alan Kulwicki in 1992 during Kulwicki's NASCAR ...
This Week in Ford Racing
March 21, 2006
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
An historic NASCAR Ford race car will return to the track this weekend when the Thunderbird driven to two victories by Alan Kulwicki in 1992 during Kulwicki's NASCAR championship season competes in the Historic Stock Car Race Series (HSCRS) event at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., this weekend. Michael Cesario, a former SCCA racer in the 1970s, recently purchased Kulwicki's car, and will campaign it in nine HSCRS races throughout the western United States in 2006. On April 1, 1993, Kulwicki died in a plane crash while enroute to the Bristol spring race.
MICHAEL CESARIO -- No. 7 HSCRS Thunderbird
OBVIOUSLY, THE CAR YOU WILL BE RUNNING IN THE HISTORIC STOCK CAR RACE SERIES HAS QUITE A BIT OF HISTORY BEHIND IT? ARE THERE OTHER CARS IN THE SERIES WITH A LOT OF HISTORY? "Big-time history. The car has to have the history or you can't run in this series. It has to be an authentic NASCAR car, with a history, and it has to be a '94 or older. Unless you own a car that's a '94 or older, you can't even be in the club. You can't rent a ride. You've got to have a '94 or older NASCAR car with a history. If you're a member, then you can buy what they call a contemporary car, and you can run your contemporary car one time for every two times you run the historic car. There's Jeff Gordon, Bill Elliott, Rusty Wallace. It's quite a thing, and when the cars get on the tracks, whether it's at Portland Historics or the San Jose Grand Prix or this weekend where we're the invited race group at the CSRG event at Infineon, the Classic Sports Car Race Group. The crowd identifies a lot more with these big stock cars. I know I'm driving a piece of history."
ARE THESE CARS ALL RUNNING THE OLD PAINT SCHEMES? "You've got to run original look and livery, yes. You've got to run the historically correct decals, even if they're not the major decal. My car is just as Alan ran it, with all the Hooters decals put in the regular spots."
HOW HARD DO YOU PUSH THESE CARS IF EVERYONE IS DRIVING HISTORY? "Some guys are driving them pretty darn hard, but they probably have more money than I do. They're very competitive. But there's four or five guys that, I think, could run anywhere. Most everybody's got some sort of race history in the background. I'm an ex-C-production class Datsun driver from the '70s back east. Now, I still run a Datsun 240Z in some historic events, but I'm going to be running the Kulwicki car in the Historic Stock Car Series."
HOW DID YOU FIND KULWICKI'S NO. 7? "My company is a sponsor of the Historic Motorsports Association. I saw it for the first time at the Portland Historics last year, got excited, and then we followed that up with a visit to the San Jose Grand Prix, where we were the sponsoring provider for that group, and I said, 'I really want to find one of these.' It took me about five or six months, looking at a lot of cars, but I finally found this in Sacramento. The fellow was moving and I was able to buy it."
WHAT KIND OF SHAPE WAS IT IN WHEN YOU GOT IT? "It needed a little bit of cosmetic work, and, of course, you had to go through the whole thing, to make sure it's structurally sound and the engine was fine. And, I had a lot of help from Paul Andrews, who was Alan Kulwicki's crew chief from 1988 until his death in 1993, and who's now Kyle Petty's crew chief, and he's given me a signed history of the car, which shows every practice, every race, money earned at each track, and complete race history on the car. So, that's pretty cool."
SO, HOW MUCH ON THIS CAR IS STILL ORIGINAL? "The whole front clip, everything. Original Wilwood brakes. It's a rear steer [set-up], which is what they used before they went into radial tires. We have a spec tire that we run in the series that Goodyear supplies. But it's got Alan's initials on the back window. The engine is not the original engine, but it's a spec engine, and I have all the specs on that. It's got to conform. The upgrades here are for safety purposes -- fire systems, things like that."
HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO RUN THIS CAR YET -- AT A TEST, PERHAPS? "Yes, at Reno Fernley Raceway."
WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU CRAWL INTO A CAR FROM ALAN KULWICKI'S CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON? "I'm thinking, 'Don't screw up.' Be smooth, and therefore be fast and safe. The competitive juices jump in, that's hard to put aside, but at the same time nobody's putting anybody into the weeds to get ahead. There's no trophies to win. We're out there, I don't know, taking a little walk down Memory Lane, and I think allowing people to do something that tugs at the heartstrings a little bit, and memories of someone who was a great figure and last independent owner/driver to win a championship, and then a guy who tragically dies five months after winning a championship in a plane crash. You know that story. It's pretty sad. I've been a NASCAR fan for years and I feel very fortunate."
SO, YOU'VE HAD A WORKING KNOWLEDGE OF ALAN KULWICKI AND HIS ACCOMPLISHMENTS LONG BEFORE YOU BOUGHT THE CAR? "Yeah. Like I said, I've been a race fan, I've had Road & Track subscriptions since I was about 11 years old. I used to dream about running Formula I. I was a sports-car racer because that's kind of what was done back east, up in the Northeast, running at tracks like Lime Rock and Watkins Glen and Thompson and the old Bridgehampton, and the old Loudon before they expanded. NASCAR is something I followed, got excited about. I used to go to the bullrings on a Saturday night to watch, but NASCAR was something that was a Southeast phenomenon. So I watched it from afar. I went to Riverside -- I was interested in the stock cars when they ran road courses, so I got to see them at Riverside in the late '70s. My interest has evolved. I'm still a fan of all kinds of racing, but I have really evolved into a big NASCAR fan. I went to Charlotte last year, went to Vegas, went to Sonoma."
HAVE YOU EVER DRIVEN A STOCK CAR BEFORE? ARE YOU USED TO THESE HEAVY CARS? "Actually, I have a Superformance '65 Mark III Cobra that has a 418 Windsor stroker in it. That's actually got a much shorter wheel base and a higher power-to-weight ratio than the 3,400-pound Thunderbird. That's a 4,400-pound car with 562 horsepower at 6,200 RPM, so that's a bit of a handful. So, I play with that a little bit. I got to have real race cars and a good cage around me. So, I'm used to big American V8s."
WHAT ARE LOOKING TO ACCOMPLISH BY RACING ALAN KULWICKI'S OLD THUNDERBIRD? FUN? GETTING PEOPLE TO REMEMBER ALAN? "A number of things. First off, I feel like, figuratively speaking, I'm stopping to smell the flowers of life a little bit when I'm out there on the track. I feel very fortunate to be able to do that. To then further be able to drive a piece of history and remind people that NASCAR has come a long way, and it's come a long way, in part, because of guys like Alan Kulwicki, and it's nice to be able to be in a position to help people remember him. And I think it's going to take that grassroots support, that overwhelming support for NASCAR and build it even more by bringing to mind a big part of history. I'm a Ford man -- I've got an F-350, I've got the Cobra and I've got this, so I'm really pleased to be driving a Ford."