The 1993 NASCAR Cup Series season was filled with incredible highs and unimaginable lows and there were many storylines to follow.
Wisconsin driver Alan Kulwicki was enjoying his reign as series champion after a hard-fought battle with race winner Bill Elliott at Atlanta Motor Speedway the previous November. Kulwicki’s David vs. Goliath story of besting the giant teams of NASCAR resonated deep within fans searching for a Cinderella figure to follow.
During one of NASCAR’s most suspenseful races, Davey Allison showed extreme class after being crashed out of his title quest. That crisp fall day also featured Jeff Gordon making his first Cup Series start while seven-time champion Richard Petty started his last race after 32 seasons.
Not seeing Petty wheel the famed No. 43 machine for the first time since 1958 was difficult for the racing fraternity to accept.
“Everything I had ever worked on centered around Richard Petty,” said eight-time championship crew chief Dale Inman. “We won seven championships together so that last race in November of 1992 brought tears to my eyes when it was all over. We knew his retirement was coming all year with his Fan Appreciation Tour. I think we started with Rick Wilson as our driver in 1993. It was a different world. We had had so many good years together. It was so different with Richard standing beside me in the pits during the race with someone else in the No. 43.”
The 1993 NASCAR Cup Series season opened with Dale Jarrett winning the Daytona 500 for football coaching legend turned NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs.
Jimmy Makar, who remains an executive at Joe Gibbs Racing, was Jarrett’s crew chief.
“We were in our second year of Joe Gibbs Racing in 1993 and was able to win the Daytona 500 with Dale Jarrett to start the season,” Makar said. “That was a special win for me personally. Being able to go to Daytona and win the 500 is a huge accomplishment. I remember Joe saying, ‘This is not so hard. We can do this.’ That was an interesting way to start the year off. The team was starting to come together throughout the year. A lot of great things have happened at JGR since those early days.”
A few months after Jarrett pulled off the seemingly impossible with such a young team, fans mourned Kulwicki’s death. Kulwicki, Hooters restaurants executives Mark Brooks and Dan Duncan and pilot Charlie Campbell perished in an April 1 plane crash while en route to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
The next day, Kulwicki’s team truck driver, Peter Jellen, tearfully wheeled the AK Racing transporter around the .533-mile track for the last time as a large number crew members from rival teams and NASCAR officials stood silent in a cold rain.
“It’s a bigger deal to win this for my buddy Alan,” Rusty Wallace said after winning the race. “We miss him bad and I want to dedicate this race to him. Alan and I raced each other for years out in the Midwest before we got to this level.”
It wasn’t the only heart-wrenching tragedy of the season. On July 13, Davey Allison died from injuries suffered in a helicopter crash at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway the previous day.