Flashback Friday: Remembering Alan Kulwicki, a champion who left us too soon

April 1 marks one of the saddest anniversaries in NASCAR: The 23rd anniversary of the death of 1992 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Alan Kulwicki.

Kulwicki was one of five people who died on April 1, 1993, in an airplane crash near Bristol, Tennessee, where NASCAR was racing that weekend.

At Bristol Motor Speedway, team members knew they couldn't race without their owner/driver and so the decision was made to leave and head back to Charlotte.

The team's transporter driver, Peter Jellen, circled the track with the team's rig, a tribute to his fallen boss. It was a sad and gut-wrenching moment in NASCAR history.

Kulwicki was one of the most interesting personalities in NASCAR history, an introspective, college-educated engineer from Wisconsin in an era where most racers came from the South.

In his championship season of 1992, Kulwicki prevailed in a five-way title fight in the season-ending NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

In that race, one of the most famous in NASCAR history, Richard Petty made his final start and Jeff Gordon made his first. Kulwicki finished second to Bill Elliott in the race, but won the championship because he led one more lap than Elliott and got 5 bonus points for most laps led.

Kulwicki was the owner/driver of a small, low-budget team. And on the front bumper of his Ford Thunderbird, he famously blocked out the "Th," so the name showed up as "underbird," a fitting tribute to the scrappy underdog driver and his tiny but mighty team.

And so on this day, we remember a NASCAR champion who left us way too soon.