CONCORD, NC – By the slimmest of margins, the Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) is proud to announce that Marietta, Georgia's Cody Haskins is the program's 2017 champion. Haskins, who won two races and finished in the top-five 13 times, edged out Lakeville, Minnesota's Michael Ostdiek 965-952 after on-track results and community engagement points were taken into account.
The final 2017 KDDP “Kulwicki Cup” point standings:
1) – Cody Haskins - 965
2) – Michael Ostdiek - 952
3) – Brett Yackey - 844
4) – Cole Butcher - 607
5) – Justin Mondeik - 532
6) – Braison Bennett - 472
7) – John Peters – 331
"It's really no surprise that the season title came down to Cody and Michael because they have been neck and neck since the late spring,” said Tom Roberts, Executive Director of the KDDP. “They were nearly equal on and off the track, but Cody really impressed our board with his hands-on approach at the track and his massive amount of off-track activities after his season wrapped up in early October. It doesn’t come as a shock that the two drivers who were invited to return to the program in 2017 finished in the top two spots.”
For Haskins, this championship is the culmination of a yearlong journey that began on a late night drive home after the 2016 KDDP banquet last December. "Cody has often said that the 2016 banquet was one of his most humbling experiences,” said Roberts. “Finishing where he did in the 2016 standings (fifth of the seven drivers) motivated him to improve for 2017. His Alan Kulwicki-like hands-on approach offered a notable parallel to the 1992 NASCAR champion and his on-track results were consistent. But what really put Cody over the top this season was his commitment to engaging with his neighbors and the fans."
An executive with KRC Power Steering, Haskins participated in fundraisers for the American Cancer Society, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, the American Red Cross, Goodwill and the Shriner's Hospital. He also helped raise money for the family of Terry Evans, a fellow racer who was killed in an accident after leaving Myrtle Beach (SC) Speedway in July.
“Like several of our drivers, Cody also spent time with school kids in and around his hometown, visiting a number of schools and churches throughout the season,” Roberts said. "It sure seemed like that whenever there was an open weekend in the racing schedule, Cody and his team were somewhere signing autographs and meeting young race fans. What set Cody apart for me, personally, was that even on his wedding day, he and his new wife found the time to visit a local food pantry and help those less fortunate. That just shows what kind of character he has."
If there was any driver in this year’s KDDP class who understood the power of working closely with young people, it had to be Ostdiek. The Iowa State University student from the Twin Cities suburbs focused his off-track energies on his own quarter-midget driver development program, which continues to shape and mold the next generation of Midwest short track racers.
"Michael has really emerged as not only a top young talent on the track, but has established himself as a leader off of it as well,” Roberts said. “His driver development program is second-to-none and his commitment to fundraising and improving the lives of those around him continues to impress.”
Ostdiek won the 2017 ARCA Midwest Tour Rookie of the Year, edging out fellow KDDP finalist Justin Mondeik. He picked up three race wins at his home track of Elko (MN) Speedway, along with six top-five finishes throughout the season. "I think Michael impressed a lot of people this year and he will only improve in 2018,” said Roberts. “I know that Gregg McKarns and all the ARCA Midwest Tour community are proud that he represented them so well and they look forward to having him back in the fold next year."
Colorado's Brett Yackey finished a close third, followed by Nova Scotia's Cole Butcher, Wisconsin's Justin Mondeik and Braison Bennett, and Maine's John Peters. Those remaining five drivers all acquitted themselves well on-and-off the track in 2017, with Yackey really standing out throughout the season.
"For a high school senior, Brett really impressed us throughout the year,” said Roberts. “He raced hard at Colorado National against some of the best competition in the West and then impressed us with his off track work.” Among his many off-track activities, Yackey helped raise over $4,000 for former Colorado National Speedway driver Dalton Hewitt's cancer fund, selling baked good, burritos, and hosting a silent auction. It was incredible that he was able to balance all of that with also being a star athlete at Greeley Central High School.
Cole Butcher, who posted two wins, including the prestigious Atlantic Cat 250, and 10 top-10 finishes, was a big supporter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, hosting two young race fans and their families at Scotia Speedworld in June. Justin Mondeik showed great improvement on the track during the season, and played a critical role in helping raise funds for the Northwoods Veterans Post in Merrill, Wisconsin. Braison Bennett embodied the Kulwicki spirit in many ways; owning, maintaining, and fixing his own race cars on a limited budget, but still able to find victory lane at Wisconsin International Raceway. Bennett, along with Maine's John Peters, both suffered incredibly bad luck this season, but both were able to overcome and post strong finishes. At his home track of Beech Ridge (ME) Motor Speedway, Peters hosted a "Kulwicki Kid" program for seven young fans, selected through a fan drawing on social media, providing them with a up-close-and-personal look at short track racing and sending them home with a number of prizes, including a racing helmet.
"All of our drivers did a remarkable job this year and our board members were superb in completing their voting assignment,” Roberts said. “They continued to place great value on community involvement, off-track projects and social media activities. They awarded bonus points for drivers going the extra mile in representing our organization. With all things being equal and with some better racing luck, any of the drivers could have walked away with the Kulwicki Cup this year. I am so proud of each of them and I know Alan would be also.”
The KDDP points system is based on a combination of judging input from members of the advisory board and the drivers’ on-track performance. Voters are asked to rank the drivers from first to seventh in their job of representing the organization and points (from 70 for first to 10 for seventh) are awarded for those rankings. Each voter is given 10 discretionary “bonus” points to award the drivers for “exceptional contributions” to the program. Community engagement, program representation and social media activities account for much of those points. The remainder of the points come from actual racing statistics. Race wins award 10 points, with 2nd-5th-place finishes getting 6 points, 6th-10th 4 points, 11th-15th 2 points and 15th-plus 1 point.
Here is a look at the final “on-track” competition points (from 4/1/17 through 10/31/17):
Cody Haskins - 98 (2 wins, 13 top-5s)
Brett Yackey - 96 (3 wins, 9 top-5s)
Michael Ostdiek - 90 (3 wins, 6 top-5s)
Braison Bennett - 88 (1 win, 11 top-5s)
Cole Butcher - 87 (2 wins, 10 top-5s)
Justin Mondeik - 64 (0 wins, 2 top-5s)
John Peters - 54 (0 wins, 3 top-5s)
For the third and final round of voting, the two regular season judging points were averaged (however, bonus points continued to accrue) and added to the final vote’s judging points. The overall competition points (maximum 150 points for 15 wins) were applied and the driver with the largest points total, Haskins, earned the 2017 Kulwicki Cup championship.
Haskins is the KDDP's third champion and the first from outside of Wisconsin, following Ty Majeski (2015) and Alex Prunty (2016). While he has big shoes to fill, Roberts feels that Haskins is ready to take the next step.
"Cody has achieved a great deal in late model stock car racing throughout the Southeast and I know that he plans on trying to take the next step in his career,” said Roberts. “It's also impressive that he has seen great success working as a mentor and car owner for Jensen and Taylor Jorgensen, both of whom have a bright future in short track racing. While his 2018 plans are not set in stone, we expect big things for Cody. He has a personal drive much like Alan possessed. He knows every nut and bolt on the race car and expects a lot of himself and those around him. A determination like Cody's can only lead to success."
Haskins and the other six members of the 2017 KDDP class will be honored during the organization’s banquet set for Thursday, Dec. 14 in the Speedway Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Highlighting the activities for the evening (which would have been Alan Kulwicki’s 63rd birthday) will be the presentation of the winner’s check for $54,439 and the special KDDP “Kulwicki Cup” Champion’s trophy to Haskins. NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Mark Martin will be the featured speaker and official media partner Speed51.com will provide a free live-streaming broadcast of the event.
While the 2017 season is over, drivers can start applying for the 2018 Kulwicki Driver Development Program today. Please visit www.kulwickiddp.com for the application and additional information. All applications are due on December 31, 2017.
For additional information on the Kulwicki Driver Development Program, please visit the official website at www.kulwickiddp.com. Catch us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/KDDP/435099609983775?ref=hl and follow us on Twitter at @KulwickiDDP.
About the KDDP:
The Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) was established in 2014 by the family of late NASCAR Champion Alan Kulwicki for the purpose of helping worthy drivers toward reaching their dreams while at the same time keeping Alan’s memory and legacy alive. The Program provides drivers with financial assistance along with support in publicity, marketing, sponsorship development, industry networking and relationship building. Based in Concord, N.C., the KDDP is a non-profit organization with the mission of playing a significant role in developing the next era of America’s short-track racers while educating new generations about the life, passion and values of the 1992 NASCAR Champion.
Story By: KDDP Release
Photo Credit: KDDP