CONCORD, N.C. – Dennis Czarnyszka, a former American Bowling Congress (ABC) marketing executive who has had a checkered past of helping aspiring young racers including Alan Kulwicki, has been named a member of the Kulwicki Driver Development Program )KDDP) advisory board.
The KDDP was recently established by family members of 1992 NASCAR Champion Alan Kulwicki as a means to offer assistance to worthy drivers while keeping the late champion’s memory and legacy alive.
“We are really pleased to have Dennis agree to serve on our advisory board,” said KDDP executive director Tom Roberts. “He was so instrumental during the early days of Alan’s career and has been such a huge help in continuing his legacy through all the years. His love for short-track racing and his successful marketing background make Dennis a valuable addition to our organization.”
It was while he was doing marketing and public relations work for another Milwaukee area racer when Czarnyszka first met Kulwicki in 1980. He remembers the encounter as if it occurred just yesterday.
“Terry Jeffords worked for WLPX, a Milwaukee radio station and he had become a great friend of mine,” Czarnyszka recalled. “Terry put together a sponsorship deal for Alan with the station. WLPX will always carry historical significance as being his first big sponsor. The station also sponsored local dirt track legend Mike Melius, who I was doing the marketing and public relations for. I met Alan through Terry, who more or less became his business manager.
“My friendship with Alan continued to grow during the early 80’s as I started helping him more and more,” said Czarnyszka. “When he was focusing squarely on the ASA (American Speed Association) circuit, I worked to make sure he had very competitive cars to drive when he returned to his home area to race. In 1982, Alan won the Slinger Nationals in a car that I helped arrange for him.”
In 1984, Czarnyszka worked with Jeffords and close friend Darold Dobs to create the weekly “Racing Roundup” radio show that helped promote local racers and local race tracks in the area. The show is done in front of a live audience and is still going strong today. It’s the longest-running show of its kind in the country.
A “Racing Roundup” show in 1985 served as Kulwicki’s “going-away” party for friends and fans in the area when he decided to move down south to pursue his dreams. It left a memory forever etched in Czarnyszka’s mind.
“Alan was fashionably late as usual,” Czarnyszka recalled with a chuckle. “But during our interview, Alan candidly stated, ‘I have no idea where I am going to go or what I am going to do once I get there, but if I do not make the move now, it will be too late.’ Many folks there that night thought that Alan would be back, but few thought it would be as the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion.”
One of Czarnyszka’s favorite memories of all times came at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 6, 1988. “We were there for Alan’s first big victory,” he said. “We actually missed seeing Alan do his first ‘Polish Victory Lap’ because we were already in Winner’s Circle ready to celebrate. Being there with him for the occasion and sharing time with Alan at the victory dinner later on that night is a special memory I will cherish forever.”
Czarnyszka has been instrumental in several projects aimed at keeping Kulwicki’s memory alive since his untimely passing in 1993. Working with Jeffords and his son (Jon) later that year, they created AK Charities, Inc., and established the Alan Kulwicki 7K Fun Run/Walk. Done in ‘Polish Victory Lap’ style, the 4.2-mile event was run backwards. Approximately 5,000 folks participated during the 1995 & 1996 events and almost $100,000 was raised in those two years. The proceeds went toward the effort to build Alan Kulwicki Park in Greenfield, Wis., which was totally funded in late 1996.
“Dennis has already been so involved in helping keep Alan’s legacy going that it was only natural to get him connected with our new program,” Roberts said. “I knew him in the early years through Terry (Jeffords) and always looked at those two guys as members of my Kulwicki PR team. So many times back then we had activities going on in Wisconsin that I couldn’t attend. I never worried because I knew Terry and Dennis were there to make sure things went well. It was certainly a sad day back in 2000 when Terry passed away.
“Dennis was also a huge player in 2003 when the movie idea came around. He met filmographer David Orgas and introduced him to Fr. (Dale) Grubba. Fr. Grubba was already working on his book detailing Alan’s life and racing career. It was through those relationships that the movie (Dare to Dream: The Alan Kulwicki Story) came to fruition.”
“So much of my focus and success is directly attributed to the inspiration I received from having Alan as a role model in my life,” said Czarnyzska, who after 17 years with the national bowling league is now a program project manager for Sprint in Jacksonville, Fla. “No matter if it’s an education or a promotion at work, Alan believed and showed that hard work and staying focused on your goal was the best route for success. He will always be my hero and I look forward to continue helping keep his memory alive.
The KDDP is expected to be fully up and running in 2015. When completely functional, the non-profit organization will provide a host of funding and services to worthy drivers.