Concord, N.C. – By the time late April rolls around, most North American racers have been on the track, whether in competition or preseason testing. But for drivers in the Upper Midwest and Canada, this spring has been exceedingly difficult with lingering adverse weather wreaking havoc on their plans. Facing a battle against Mother Nature in order to start chasing checkered flags, several members of the 2018 Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) roster have utilized the time to get entrenched in worthwhile causes off the track.
Gleason, Wisconsin’s Justin Mondeik can’t get over yet another major storm that hit his hometown two weekends ago.
“We got over 20 inches of snow in Gleason and a foot where I go to school at Michigan Tech (in Houghton, Michigan),” said Mondeik. “Typically, going home means getting away from all the snow, but this weekend it was worse back there.”
“We really came on at the end of the year, which was a huge boost of confidence after the rough start we had,” said Mondeik. “I’ve never been more confident as we enter 2018.”
A name from the Kulwicki program’s past has been helpful to the mechanical engineering student during the off season. Inaugural (2015) KDDP Champion and current Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity Series driver Ty Majeski has been mentoring Mondeik both on and off the track. “Ty is a really smart driver and engineer,” said Mondeik. “He’s thrown a few setup ideas our way and has been coaching me on being smooth and how to save tires. I can’t wait to hit the track for testing and get the ARCA Midwest Tour season going at Madison International in a few weeks.”
While Mondeik has not been able to do any testing or racing, he has been keeping busy with numerous charity and community engagement projects. In addition to his 40 races this season, he has numerous projects going on both in and around his hometown and at the race track. So far this season, Mondeik has donated items to food banks in Merrill, Wis., and Slinger, Wis., hosted an Easter egg hunt for local kids and held a community meal in Wisconsin Rapids. Mondeik also announced the return of his “Lucky 7” engineering scholarship for his alma mater, North Central (Wis.) Technical College, which will award $777 to two students this year. Additionally, Mondeik has become involved with the “Mighty Bandos” Wisconsin Traveling Series for young bandolero racers, sponsoring the series and adorning their logo with the same “Mighty Mouse” character that Alan Kulwicki wore on his driver’s suit for so many years.
While he may not be dealing with an overabundance of snow, Porter Lake, Nova Scotia’s Cole Butcher has still been itching for some track time this spring. Butcher’s first race of the season is not until the Maritime Pro Stock Tour (MPST) lid-lifter on May 19, so he was busy helping his brother, Jarrett, prepare for the PASS North Series race at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME).
“It has been a long winter for us and it’s been tough not being on the track since the Snowball Derby back in December,” said Butcher, also a member of the 2017 KDDP class who was voted to return this season. “Needless to say, we’re in the shop after work and on weekends and our cars are ready to race.”
While Butcher plans on spending most of his time north of the border this season competing for the MPST championship, he still hopes to add some additional shows in the United States and plans on continuing his relationship with Donnie Wilson Motorsports.
Like Mondeik, Butcher has been very involved in charity work this off season. His family’s company, Atlantic Tiltload, hosts an annual “Night of 3 Wishes” Make-A-Wish gala event in Halifax. This year, the event raised more than $100,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and granted wishes to three young people, including a young woman named Zoe who will achieve her dream of visiting Hawaii. Butcher and his girlfriend have also been volunteering at the local ASPCA chapter, walking dogs and, as Butcher puts it, “trying really hard not to take each one of them home with us.”
Despite numerous weather delays and cancellations, KDDP drivers have already been in victory lane twice this year; Derek Griffith (winning the PASS National Series race at Thompson, Connecticut) and Brett Yackey (winning the Late Model Division feature at Colorado National Speedway). Justin Carroll is coming off two strong second-place runs last Saturday at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway, while Molly Helmuth continues to make strides in the CARS Super Late Model Series, gaining a dozen spots to finish 11th this past weekend at Orange County (N.C.) Speedway.
This season marks the fourth fully-functioning year for the KDDP, which 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. Mondeik, Butcher, Griffith, Yackey, Carroll, Helmuth and Brittney Zamora make up the seven-driver 2018 KDDP class. All drivers receive a stipend of $7,777 and compete for the rich KDDP points championship, awarding the winner a check for $54,439 and the special unique Kulwicki Cup trophy.
The Kulwicki Cup competition goes from April 1 through Oct. 31. The contest’s points system is based on a combination of judging input from members of the advisory board and the drivers’ on-track performance. Drivers are given points for both their success in chasing checkered flags and for community engagement, program representation and social media activities. Seymour, Wisconsin’s Ty Majeski won the inaugural Kulwicki Cup in 2015, while Alex Prunty claimed the 2016 KDDP Championship. Marietta, Georgia’s Cody Haskins returned from being a 2016 finalist (finished sixth) to win the 2017 Kulwicki Cup title.
The KDDP urges you to keep up with all of its news and activities by regularly visiting Speed51.com, the organization’s official media partner.
-Kulwicki Driver Development Program Press Release
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos