For the second straight year, Justin Mondeik finds himself as one of the seven finalists for the Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP). As a Wisconsin native like the late Alan Kulwicki, whom the program is named after, being selected for the second straight year means a lot to the 21-year-old driver.
“It is the highest honor I can imagine at this point in my career,” Mondeik told Speed51.com. “There are so many talented drivers out there, and I know the KDDP Board had a heck of a time getting that list down to just seven of us. This is another opportunity for us to help get Alan into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, to continue growing short track racing followers in the Midwest, and hopefully we will bring the Kulwicki Cup trophy home to Wisconsin in December.”
The selection process to be named to the KDDP is one of the most competitive in short-track racing. More than 50 applications were received, that list was narrowed down to 21 semifinalists and then those semifinalists went through an interview process to determine the final seven who will represent the program in 2018. Even though Mondeik had experience with the process from 2017, it didn’t make it any easier the second time around.
“The selection process was more nerve-wracking than last year, mostly because I knew more about my competitors and they also upped the semi-finalist candidates to 21,” Mondeik said. “I honestly knew that Cole and Brett would make it, they both had great seasons last year, and both finished ahead of me in the standings. Derek Griffith is somebody that we all follow up here, so that also wasn’t very surprising either. We are very confident in our program, it was just a matter of getting through all of my notes during the interview.”
Mondeik finished fifth in the KDDP rankings last year and raced everything from his local tracks to the ARCA Midwest Tour and TUNDRA Series. The Wisconsin driver’s highest finish of the year was a runner-up finish at Marshfield Motor Speedway for the Fall Shootout. He also earned three top-10 finishes with the ARCA Midwest Tour and one with the TUNDRA Series. When it was all said and done, Mondeik competed in 38 races, and his schedule for this year is no less ambitious.
“I currently have 40 races on my schedule. We are a ‘Touring Star’ on the ARCA Midwest Tour which currently has ten events, we will race the six events on the TUNDRA Super Late Model series schedule, Slinger Nationals, Governor’s Cup, Oktoberfest, as well as full schedules at our home track State Park Speedway, Golden Sands Speedway, and Marshfield Motor Speedway,” Mondeik explained. “It is the ultimate challenge to race this amount at this level, but we proved last season that we can fight through adversity and pull it off.”
If there’s one thing Mondeik learned last season and through being part of the KDDP, it’s he needs to find a way to win races. He knocked on the door of victory lane a few times, but hopes to park it there this year.
“I learned that we need to win races and strive to always do more off-track. We made substantial gains during the final three months of the 2017 season and ended most races as the fastest car on the track,” Mondeik said. “This year we will work on our qualifying process and hopefully start more races inside the top ten. The stipend is very helpful, and that allows us to be able to afford running some tire-hungry events that we may have not considered otherwise. I know that we need to win races, but we also have a goal to finish them all.”
Besides success on the track, the KDDP program uses a unique formula of racing statistics as well as social media and community involvement when determining its end-of-year champion and the recipient of $54,439. With a year under his belt, Mondeik has learned how to juggle all aspects, and the fact that he is a full-time student at Michigan Tech working on an Engineering Degree.
“First off, my education is most-important. I am able to juggle those responsibilities because our race schedule is from May through September, but the beginning and end of the year are always a challenge,” Mondeik commented. “The community support and social media influence comes naturally. Wisconsin is the home of many great short tracks with rich history, and I am very fortunate to be able to race at these venues every week. I know that in-order to keep fans engaged and grow attendance, I need to be very involved in the community, keep people updated on event schedules and results, and also share some insight on the ups and downs of my career. This transparency really makes fans relate to how hard we are working at the track and back home in the shop. Ultimately, racing is most important because this is not just a hobby for us. We have specific goals and expectations that we strive to meet. This year I expect us to be a contender at each race, and a champion at the end of the season.”
At the end of the day, there isn’t much that would mean more to Mondeik than to return the KDDP trophy to the Midwest. With Kulwicki’s strong Wisconsin ties and the fact that the first two winners, Ty Majeski and Alex Prunty, were from the Badger State, it makes Mondeik pursue the goal that much more.
“To be honest, I was at peace with Cody or Michael winning it last year. Both were very deserving, and they were the ultimate ambassadors for the KDDP,” Mondeik said. “That said, Alan Kulwicki is a Wisconsinite. I take a lot of pride in the grassroots short track racing scene up here, and AK’s legacy will always be remembered as the ultimate goal for us Cheeseheads. You will see a lot of #WisconsinProud from me this season. It has been amazing to see many of my peers making it into NASCAR, so I really hope that bringing the Kulwicki Cup home to Wisconsin will help us move along that same path.”
-By Jana Wimmer, Speed51.com Midwest Editor – Twitter: @JWimm22
-Photo credit: Justin Mondeik Twitter