The makings for the Kulwicki Driver Development Program 2020 began to take shape on Monday morning right here on Speed51, with the 15 semi-finalists being revealed on 'The Bullring' in advance of the selection of the seven finalists who will participate over the rest of the racing season. Once again, it was a great mix of up and coming short track young guns from all across the map who will look to show their best both on and off the race track before the final selections on March 30.
Over the morning on Monday, a number of the semi-finalist appeared on The Bullring, sharing their reactions to being chosen for the next stage of the selection process.
Wyatt Alexander was one of four drivers from the Northeast to make the list of 15 semifinalists as he prepares to return to full-time racing in Maine at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, while also eyeing a shot at the Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway in August.
"Alan Kulwicki encompasses what a lot of us short trackers dream to be, and most of us come from a similar situation," Alexander said. "You have to build a path your own way and that’s always resonated with me. I’ve been a semi-finalist a couple of times now and I think this is my best chance to show them I’m really pushing myself to contend more. I haven’t run a full schedule the past three or four years moving down South. This year I’m running for the NASCAR Division 1 championship at Beech Ridge in Maine, it’s going to be awesome being to run more races, including the Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains."
While Alexander prepares to kick things back into high gear, Florida driver Brooke Stoerer is already at the top of the rev count. After being selected to the PFC Brakes Sponsor Me Program for 2020, Storer backed up that selection with a Wheel Man Racing Series win this past Saturday at Citrus County Speedway.
"I’ve been very grateful over the past couple of months, getting the PFC deal, and now being a semi-finalist for Kulwicki Driver Development Program is great," Storer stated. "This win this past Saturday was a huge deal for us because it’s been a while since we got Wheel Man win. I’m looking forward to seeing if we can keep the momentum going, getting some more wins, and hopefully making the final seven on March 30."
Just as Storer has become a familiar figure in the Sunshine State, Luke Fenhaus has done the same at tracks across the Badger State. But, he has plans beyond Wisconsin in 2020, eyeing a full schedule with the ARCA Midwest Tour. After making the 2019 KDDP class, Fenhaus feels more than ready to up his game on and off the track this season.
"I think you've got to be on top of your stuff on and off the racetrack. It’s not just how you perform on the racetrack, it’s how you perform with community service and performing with online services," Fenhaus said. "When you’re on top of those online services like Facebook, Instagram and all that, I think that’s a big key to the Kulwicki Driver Development Program. It would mean a whole lot, the Kulwicki Cup does so much for you. It would be our biggest sponsor and that’s what helps out the most. But it also exposes you and get your name out to all the top guys in racing, and take the next step in racing. That’s huge for a lot of underfunded racers."
Vermont's Reilly Lanphear has already thrown herself into the crucible of touring racing, running the American-Canadian Tour Late Models the past two years. Despite some tough times on track in 2019, Lanphear's grit and determination has been an inspiration for many in the short track community. A selection to the KDDP program and the $7,777 check that is earned by the finalists would be just the thing she and her family team needs right now.
"Honestly, it would be life changing because right now I’m planning on depleting my savings account just so I can race. It’s really important for me to race the full season, put in a full effort for whatever I do, and that will just help out a ton, and help us with what we want to do. For me, where I am right now, I just want to improve and prove that I belong out on the race track. I had a tough year last year, very disappointing, and towards the end I wasn’t having fun with. I want to make a point to get better and have fun out there."
Danny Benedict also felt the stress of taking on a touring series in 2019, moving to the APC United Late Model Series which runs in his native Ontario. But, the Canadian driver also has a year as a KDDP finalist underneath him, and he hopes that will make a difference in 2020.
"The biggest thing I learned last year was the off-track stuff. It’s tough when you’re trying to manage that plus the on-track stuff, you get a little overwhelmed. But being able to watch Jeremy (Doss), Justin (Carroll), and Derek (Griffith) last year, who were second year guys in the program, talk to them and lean on them, that was a big help last year. Plus, just being in the program and talking to Tom has been of help. Hopefully we can make the finals again, take what we learned, and use it."
Also making the semi-finalist list were Jackson Boone, RJ Braun, Chad Butz, Marcel Gravel, Austin Herzog, Garrett Huffines, Ryan Kuhn, Jacob Nottestad, Kole Raz, and Riley Stenjem.
For the complete interviews, check out the replay of 'The Bullring' by clicking here.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor - Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51/Bruce Buttleman