From tragedy blossomed triumph. Few race fans could ever forget the mournful plane crash near Johnson City, Tennessee, on April 1, 1993, which took the lives of Alan Kulwicki, Mark Brooks, Dan Duncan, and pilot Charlie Campbell. Today, however, their memories live, breathe, and race in the racing series created by Mark Brooks' father Robert Brooks. In memory of his son and the three other lives lost in Tennessee, Brooks has created one of the fastest-growing race series in the country: the Hooters ProCup Series
Robert Brooks, CEO of Hooters of America Inc., executive commissioner of the United Speed Alliance Racing (USAR) Series, and CEO of Eastern Foods Inc. (each located in Atlanta), created the Hooters series to honor those lost in the accident. Those four men are now known as "The Forever Champions" and are honored by a shield decal embossed with the words, "We Race In Their Memory," which is applied to every car in the Hooters ProCup Series.
The tribute is extremely important to the Brooks' and the racing organization. "What we are doing today," says Gary Cornwell, media relations for USAR, "is not just to have a racing series that is becoming very successful; the main idea is to always make people aware that we race in their memory. We are honoring The Forever Champions by dedicating the Hooters ProCup Series to those four individuals."
Hooters ProCup driver Chad Chaffin enjoys the spoils of victory lane at USA International
In the Beginning
The Hooters ProCup Series as it looks today eventually evolved from the now-defunct NASCAR Sportsman series. Since its early days, the Hooters races have gone through a startling transformation in only a short period.
In 1997, the series' first "real season," there were 11 races. During the Milwaukee race in September, Brooks, who now owns USAR, the sanctioning body for the Hooters ProCup Series, decided to drop the Hooters Cup Late Model Series (the premier series at the time) and develop the Hooters ProCup Series. The decision was made because the ProCup cars were steel-bodied cars, like those running in the Winston Cup and Busch series, and thus Brooks felt they would look better on television.
"Television is what it is all about for Hooters of America Inc. and Naturally Fresh Foods," says Cornwell. "Without television exposure, there probably wouldn't be any reason to run the series."
USAR organizers did not waste any time developing the ProCup series, for they felt the need and the desire for the series was evident in the racing community.
ProCup drivers scatter at Myrtle Beach Speedway as one of their competitors throws the rea
"We felt there were a lot of Sportsman cars and drivers out there who didn't have a series to race in," says Cornwell. "So we developed the series from there, and we made some rule changes on what kind of body styles (the drivers) could run, because they now had to be steel bodies. At that point, we knew what we wanted, so we went about scheduling 20 races for the 1998 season. We feel that 20 races are about as much as most racers can run. A lot of drivers who came to our series came from a Late Model background, in which they raced at a particular track or in a three-track series. With this in mind, we felt the monetary concerns were conducive to 20 races."
The '98 Hooters series had its 20 races on 13 tracks with 250- to 300-lap races. Car models included the Ford Taurus and Thunderbird, Chevrolet Lumina and Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix, and the Dodge Avenger. For 1999, to help update the series, the Lumina has been entirely replaced with the Monte Carlo.
The drivers themselves have spearheaded further modernization of the series. "What we found," Cornwell explains, "is that the drivers who came to our series took the cue to update their equipment on their own. Basically, what we saw happen is all the cars and all the equipment were updated to meet the speeds necessary to compete. This caused us to suddenly transform from the Sportsman series in 1997 to a purebred racing series in 1998. So, the Sportsman series as you knew it is history-it has no direct meaning to the series as it exists today."