New Team, New Sponsor
At the beginning of his foray into NASCAR, Kulwicki was an outsider. He was a Midwesterner in a sport full of Southern drivers and team owners, very few of whom were college graduates. Kulwicki even surprised Bill Terry when he showed up at the team owner's Greenville, South Carolina garage unannounced. Despite his initial surprise, Terry offered Kulwicki a chance to be a Winston Cup Series regular in 1986. Unfortunately, the team had secured sponsorship only for the Daytona 500, and they were not fast enough to qualify for the race.
Kulwicki and Terry convinced their sponsor, Quincy’s Steak House, to stay on board with the team for a few more weeks. The team missed the second race of the year at Richmond when qualifying got rained out. NASCAR used points earned in 1985 to set the starting field, and, having only competed in a few races the previous year, Kulwicki and Terry did not have enough points to get them in the race. Their first start of the season finally came in the third race of the year at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham. Kulwicki finished 15th at the high-banked one-mile oval.
Frustrated by the team's slow start, Kulwicki felt like he needed a change. He arranged to purchase the race team from Terry, relocate to a new race shop in Kannapolis, North Carolina, and manage the team himself as he had done in his ASA days. Kulwicki officially became the owner/driver of AK Racing. While most weeks were still a struggle for the team, Kulwicki did earn his first Winston Cup top five at Martinsville Speedway.
One week later, disaster struck at the Alabama International Motor Speedway in Talladega. Quincy’s had purchased 150 tickets for employees and special guests to watch Kulwicki race, but once again, the team was not fast enough to qualify. Kulwicki knew that not qualifying for the race was a bad look for the team, especially with his sponsor and its guests at the track. On race day, Kulwicki stayed in Talladega to hold an autograph session with the Quincy’s group. Standing on the back of his pickup truck, he explained how important the sponsorship was and how appreciative he was to be representing the company. Quincy’s was happy to have Kulwicki meet with its guests and still impressed by his strong showing at Martinsville. The restaurant chain wound up extending its sponsorship through the end of the season.