CONCORD, N.C. (November 23, 2021) – Retired Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage, who knew Alan Kulwicki long before the Wisconsin native became a NASCAR champion, returns to his own roots this December as the featured guest speaker for the 2021 Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) Awards Banquet in The Speedway Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Gossage headed the communications department at Charlotte Motor Speedway before moving to Texas to oversee construction of that Speedway Motorsports Inc. track and then the operation of the facility for more than two decades.
The Dec. 9 KDDP banquet is an annual affair, but it had to be suspended last year due to the pandemic. This year’s Thursday night event celebrates its sixth season five days before what would have been Kulwicki’s 67th birthday. It will be broadcast live online by Speed51.TV.
“Alan was absolutely a fascinating individual because of his approach to everything, which was so different than everybody else’s,” Gossage said about the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup champion. “He is proof positive that there’s no standard way to get from A to Z. You can go different routes as long as you keep your sights focused on the goal. I don’t think there’s any question that he believed if you can conceive it, you can achieve it.”
Gossage worked in motorsports management and public relations capacities at Nashville International Raceway and Bristol International Raceway before moving to Miller Brewing Company where he was the firm’s marketing communications supervisor, overseeing public relations for all of Miller’s motorsports programs. It was while residing in Milwaukee that Gossage and Kulwicki, a Greenfield, Wis., resident met.
“Alan and I became friends, probably more socially than professionally,” Gossage recalled. “We would go to dinner in Milwaukee. Alan away from the race track was much different than Alan at the race track or shop. He was a ton of fun. I can remember him standing on a table in a Milwaukee restaurant with his tie around his head.”
Kulwicki possessed no money, but he had a tremendous amount of faith in himself and it was his gutsy endeavors that caused people to want to help him. On at least two occasions, Gossage came to his rescue. The first occurred when Kulwicki traveled from Wisconsin to Charlotte for a race while he was still competing in the Midwest’s American Speed Association.
“He came down to meet people to shake hands and get in front of people and figure out what he was going to do (to move to NASCAR),” Gossage said. “At some point during the weekend he came to me and he said, ‘I don’t have a way home.’ I said, ‘Well, how did you get here without that part of the plan?’ He said, ‘All I could do was to get here.’ Back in those days Piedmont Airlines had a family saver fare. If you were on a full-price ticket, a member of your family could fly one leg for something like 26 bucks.
“I told him we could get him to Chicago on one of those tickets and then we would rent a car and drive from Chicago to Milwaukee, which was a couple of hours. It was different then because you didn’t have to have all of the identification that you do today. So for 26 bucks he was Alan Gossage.”
The other time Gossage came to the determined Kulwicki’s rescue was during Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Media Tour, which was held each January. In the 1980s, Miller Brewing Company had a hospitality suite during the annual event. In January 1986, Kulwicki decided it was time to move to NASCAR. He loaded his ASA trailer with everything he owned and towed it with a borrowed pickup truck from Wisconsin to North Carolina, approximately 860 miles. Upon his arrival in Charlotte, he telephoned Gossage and asked if he could stay in the Miller Brewing Company hospitality suite until he found a place to live.
“So he stayed in the hospitality suite for a few days while he was trying to get himself organized,” Gossage said.
“Race teams bring money in the front door and it goes out the back door. He had enough faith in himself that he was able to make enough come in the front door to be able to go out the back door and go racing. I think a lot of people probably don’t have that amount of faith in themselves.”
By the time Gossage left Miller Brewing Company in March 1989 to oversee Charlotte Motor Speedway’s communications department, Kulwicki already possessed one victory and seven poles with his Concord, N.C.-based team, AK Racing.
“We had breakfast together frequently, but it was only because we would run into each other at this bagel place down by UNC-Charlotte,” Gossage said. “We had breakfast the week he passed away. I always felt like that was the Good Lord letting us have one more visit. We just were friends and the racing stuff just happened to be the business, the industry we were in. I liked him because anybody that’s unusual or unique to me is appealing.”
Official KDDP media partner, Racing America, powered by Speed51.TV, will offer a live-streaming broadcast of the event free to subscribers. Speed 51’s Alan Deitz, the Speed 51 crew and Tom Roberts, KDDP executive director, will emcee the event.
Seventeen-year-old Luke Fenhaus, from Wausau, Wis., is this year’s winner of the KDDP Kulwicki Cup Championship. Fenhaus will receive the unique trophy and a check for $54,439 when he and the other six members of the 2021 KDDP class are honored.
-Kulwicki Driver Development Program Press Release