I Hate April 1st

April 1st. I hate this day. It wasn?t always that way, I liked April’s Fools day. I liked playing jokes on people, pulling pranks, telling them something outrageous and making them believe it. That all changed 15 years ago. It was a Thursday evening, I was working as an emergency medical technician at the NCAA Final Four Hockey tournament at the Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee. I believe it was University of Michigan playing Boston University. I befriended some members of the Boston U. band and even traded hats with one of B.U.?s horn players. It was a great night, electric college atmosphere, no medical emergencies at the event, on or off the ice. Plus I got to watch a lot of the action on the ice. Then I got home. I went upstairs and saw I had four or five messages on my answering machine. That’s when I found out the reigning Winston Cup Champion, Alan Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash. I can’t explain the emotion, but most of it was anger, selfish anger. Why? Why, did it have to be Alan? He was MY driver. Dammit, he didn’t even get to enjoy being champion for the whole year.

I first met Alan when I was about six years old. We were living in West Allis, my father was a racing fan and his hobby was an amateur movie photographer. He started taking movies after my sister?s birth in 1957. Being creative, he branched out from the usual home movies to shooting auto racing the following year. He befriended several people connected to the Milwaukee Mile, soon he was a credentialed photographer shooting the many USAC Stock Car and Indy Car races held during the year. He edited the movies and would show them in the off-season at the many racing nights they had back then, including for Milwaukee Mile promotor Tom Marchese. My father befriended many people in racing, master engine builder, Jerry Kulwicki was one of them. I still remember the first day I met Alan. My father and Jerry had just come back from the go-kart races Alan participated at Dousman (WI). I didn?t say much to Alan that day, however recall my father and Jerry kidding around, most likely teasing Alan. Alan being just over ten years older than me, we weren?t close, we never had any particularly deep conversations. However, several years later, I recall he was showing me photos of his new dirt late model (for the 1976 season) as well as his other cars he had raced. Alan being to focused perfectionist he was, tried to explain to me how much better this car was to his old one. He was way over my head, explaining leaf springs, coil springs, set-ups, etc. He asked me which one I liked, I said the old one because I liked the color, I can still picture Alan rolling his eyes. What did I know? I was just a dumb kid.

Flash forward to that vile day, April 1st, 1993. I still hate April 1st. For a while I didn?t even enjoy the races at Bristol, the track he was flying to. I hated those mountains, his sponsor-Hooters, anything connected to that dreadful day. After awhile the hurting heals a bit, but it doesn’t completely go away. Last year, I remember talking to a friend of mine connected to racing about Alan. He knew Alan, interviewed him several times and was a fan of his like me. Being the same age and we were shocked when we both realized we?re older than Alan now.

I miss walking into a room when a race is on and asking, ?How?s Alan doing?? I miss looking in the newspaper (before the internet) and seeing where he qualified. I miss seeing him at the racetrack, inching my way up to his pit stall and wondering, is this the right time to talk to him now?

I think I will always hate April 1st.

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