A look back at races past at a given track is probably better suited for some kind of “Throwback Thursday” post, but Thursday has passed and I’m going to look back at a memorable Phoenix International Raceway NASCAR moment, anyway.
PIR plays host to the Sprint Cup and Xfinity series this weekend, and the NASCAR Mexico Series for that matter. In 1988, the track also played host to the beginning of a tradition that several drivers have continued on and off in recent years — celebrating race wins with a “Polish Victory Lap.”
Alan Kulwicki claimed his first Winston (now-Sprint) Cup win on Nov. 6, 1988, at PIR. After the win, he took a victory lap around the track in a clockwise direction, putting the driver’s side of his car closest to the fans in the grandstands and allowing him to salute them out the window as he made his victory lap. The backward lap was coined a “Polish Victory Lap,” playing on Kulwicki’s Polish decent.
By the way, if you’re wondering about that Phoenix race in 1988, Ricky Rudd dominated by leading 183 laps of the 312 laps before his engine blew. Kulwicki then took the lead and went on to win by a margin of more than 18 seconds. His share of the purse was $54,100, a paltry amount compared to today.
Maybe former Charlotte Motor Speedway track promoter H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler deserves some of the credit. Rumor has it, Wheeler once suggested to Kulwicki to do something different to celebrate his futre first Cup win.
Even though Kulwicki deserves at least most of the credit for starting the “Polish Victory Lap” tradition, driving around the track the wrong way wasn’t something he commonly practiced. He did do it one other time to celebrate becoming Cup champion in 1992.
After Kulwicki’s death in a plane crash near Blountville, Ten., traveling between a sponsor appearance at an area Hooters and Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway on April 1, 1993, race winners honored Kulwicki throughout the remainder of that season by celebrating race wins with “Polish Victory Laps.”
In the years since, several drivers have rolled out the “Polish Victory Lap” as part of their victory celebrations. It’s not as commonplace as it used to be, but maybe that’s a good thing. If fans saw it every week, it wouldn’t seem all that special, would it?
NOTE REGARDING KULWICKI — Kulwicki is one of the 20 nominees up for 2016 induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The five inductees for 2016 will be chosen by the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel May 20, 2015, with official induction in early 2016.
Photo courtesy of NASCAR and used with permission