Monday, April 18, 2016

#CollisionWithFame: Brooks Berringer, April 18 1996

Brooks Berringer had one of the toughest jobs in college football in the 1990s, that of backup quarterback for Tom Osborne’s Nebraska Cornhuskers.  Berringer had rode the pine for most of three seasons behind Tommy Frazier, who won two National Titles for the Huskers and also was three-times MVP of the national title game.  In 1994 he had started eight games due to Frazier’s struggles Crohn’s diseasebut he never displaced Frazier from the starting role.  Together, they had fueled the triple-option offense to three trips to the national title game (against Florida State, Miami, and Florida) and back-to-back Cornhusker titles (for the 1994 and 1995 seasons). 

Monday, April 11, 2016

#CollisionWithFame: The Price of Small Celebrity, Jessica Dubroff, April 11 1996

We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb
and clap as they go by.
Will Rogers

Seven-year-old Jessica Dubroff achieved fame for her attempt to be the youngest person to pilot a plane across the United States.   Departing California on April 10 1996, she and her father Lloyd Dubroff, and flight-instructor and pilot-in-commend Joe Reid headed east, on an eight-day itinerary that was heavy on media interview commitments (including ongoing coverage by cable news). On April 11 the team, with Reid at the controls, left Cheyenne, Wyoming aboard their Cessna 177B.  The craft crashed after take-off when it stalled during a thunderstorm. All three persons on board the aircraft were killed.
            Whether this accident belongs in a book about celebrity crashes is subject to question.  The flight itself was a publicity stunt, framed as a child piloting across America, that was made for television.  The infamy of the pilot arises from the event, rather than the event being infamous because of the fame of those involved.  Nonetheless we included this case because of these very circumstances, and, because like so many of the unfortunate, high-profile accidents we describe, this one led to a change in aviation policy.

Friday, April 1, 2016

#CollisionWithFame: NASCAR’s Horrible Season

April 1, 1993: Alan Kulwicki
July 12, 1993: Davey Allison

He was a small, quiet, polished, Polish-American Yankee walking through boisterous garage areas, wearing his driving uniform but carrying a briefcase. The good ol' boys snickered, but he was unobtrusive, so they let him alone. Then they began to watch him work. The big-name drivers, who rarely dirtied their hands, had a dozen crewmen swarming around their cars; Kulwicki was doing the same amount of work by himself with maybe two or three partially skilled volunteers. The briefcase was for his business papers . . . he had no agent, no business manager, no contract-negotiating team. He did it all himself..
Ed Hinton, Sports Illustrated

Alan Kulwicki was not a conventional NASCAR driver.  Born in Milwaukee, his father was racing engine designer Gary Kulwicki. Alan had a very different upbringing from the Souther-dominated bootleggers and dirt-track racer tradition that defined NASCAR through the 1980s. He grew up racing go karts and designing and building engines. He was an engineer by training and temperament, and in his career he always raced for his own team, creating the model of the briefly popular owner-driver in the 1990s. and also recreating the professional, scientifically-informed NASCAR crew that now dominates the sport.
            Kulwicki raced for over a decade on short tracks and dirt tracks before breaking in to NASCAR in 1985-86 as an owner-driver with no sponsor.  He finished 23 of 29 races and had three top ten finishes to win NASCAR Rookie of the Year.  After outstanding seasons in 1988 and 1989, Kulwicki was approached to drive for legendary owner Junior Johnson; he declined, preferring to run his own operation and drive for himself.