Concord, N.C. – Before Alan Kulwicki moved South in 1985 to pursue fame and fortune in the highest level of NASCAR racing, his victory in the 1983 Miller 200 American Speed Association (ASA) race at the history-rich Milwaukee Mile stood paramount as the biggest win in his stock car racing career. Even today, the victory is often revered as the NASCAR champion and Hall of Famer’s biggest accomplishment in Midwest grassroots competition.
Much of the prominence placed on that win is due to Kulwicki’s personal bond with the area. The Milwaukee native graduated from Pius XI (Catholic) High School in 1973 and earned a BS Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in 1977. His family home was only four miles away from the track and his father (Gerald) was a multi-time race-winning engine builder in USAC Stock Car competition at the famed motorsports facility two decades earlier.
As the ARCA Midwest Tour ushers in the return of exciting Super Late Model action to the storied Fair Park track in this weekend’s Father’s Day 100, the three drivers who’ll be carrying the Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) colors -- Paul Shafer Jr., Carson Kvapil and Luke Fenhaus -- are well aware of the “Kulwicki Connection.” Each would love to join Kulwicki in the record books as a winner on the West Allis, Wisconsin oval.
Of the three, only Shafer has experienced competition first hand at the Milwaukee Mile.
“We were there for the last two of the Howie Lettow races and learned just how demanding the track was as we blew engines both times,” Shafer said of the 2013 and 2014 races held as memorial events for the legendary short track crew chief who succumbed to cancer in 2010. “We didn’t even get to start the feature in the first trip there. It was self-inflicted as we inadvertently pinched an oil line and we all know that engines have to have oil. In the second one, we found a groove up on the high side that helped me go from 25th all the way up to 10th. We were so fast that my spotter was having a great time up there on the team radio saying, ‘under you…you’re around him…clear!’
“The next cars we were about to pass were Johnny Sauter and John Hunter Nemechek, so that’s pretty indicative of how strong we were running that day when the engine blew,” said the 22-year-old Portage, Indiana, racer. “With the long straightaways, you just have the engines wound up for so long…it’s just so demanding from an equipment standpoint.
“We’ll be running our white car there this weekend, a Hamke Chassis with a Tiry LST Engine, and think we’ll have a durable and competitive package for the race,” said the popular driver simply known as “Pauly” on the short track racing scene. “Man, I can’t wait to get back there. If we can get that high line going like we did last time, it’s going to be so much fun.
“Regardless of how we fare, I’m hoping that the fans come out to see the show,” said Shafer, currently fourth in the series point standings. “It would be so cool to see the race be successful and added to the schedule as an annual event.”
For Kvapil, the 16-year-old Mooresville, North Carolina second-generation racer, he thinks he is prepared as possible considering the circumstances.
“It’s by far the biggest track I’ve ever raced on,” said the hard-charging youngster who is behind the wheel of the Toby Nuttleman-prepared car owned by Brad and Nancy Mannstedt this season. “A big half-mile track like Marshfield is the biggest track I’ve raced on. I’ve been on iRacing trying to learn all I can about it.
“Dad raced there in the trucks several times,” Carson said of father, Travis, who raced at Milwaukee five times in NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series competition and, although winless, finished in the top 10 every time out. “He’s been on iRacing with me and he’s teaching me a lot about the track. He’s going to shake down a Rowdy (Chassis) car for a driver who can’t make it to the track early. We’ll compare notes, so that’ll really help. Ty (Majeski) will be there, too, and we’ll be able to pick up a lot of information from him to use with our car.
“We’ve been racing so much lately at Millbridge (Speedway, a sixth-mile premier karting oval located near Salisbury, North Carolina) in our dirt Outlaw Kart, it’ll be neat to get back in a Super (Late Model car) this weekend. I’m learning a lot about the history of the track, with Alan winning the ASA race there and all. We hope to get up there and make a little history of our own on that track. It’s a huge challenge, but it’s going to be a lot of fun at the same time.”
The 15-year-old Fenhaus, who hails from Wausau, Wisconsin, is thrilled with the opportunity he’ll be getting this weekend and has an impressive grip on the historical significance involved.
“I’ve been there one time and it was as a spectator,” said Fenhaus, the defending Super Late Model champion at Wausau’s State Park Speedway. “It was the 2013 Howie Lettow race that Kyle Busch was so dominant in. I’ll never forget watching and thinking how amazing it was how far they were driving down into the turns and the speeds they were running. I was just nine years old at the time. It’s pretty cool to think that I’m headed back there to race this weekend.
“A track like Kaukauna (Wisconsin International Raceway) or Madison (International Speedway) is the biggest thing I’ve ever raced on heading into this weekend,” said Fenhaus. “I’m watching all the videos I can find on racing there. I can always count on Ty (Majeski) to give me pointers and my crew chief (Tom Ress) has a lot of experience on most all of the tracks in the Midwest.
“We’ll be bringing the Fury (chassis) car that we got from Dan Fredrickson,” Fenhaus said. “It was brand new when he took it down to New Smyrna for Speed Weeks back in February. Sam Mayer raced it some down there. Dan raced it last in the Joe Shear Classic last month at Madison and got caught up in a crash. We’ll be running the ACE Engine Package 5.3 with the Holley 2-barrel (carburetor), which should work well on that track.
“I found the video of Alan winning the 1983 ASA race at the Milwaukee Mile and will be watching it,” added Fenhaus. “I know Alan’s dad built racing engines for USAC stock car guys and remember seeing a photo of Alan and his dad working under the hood of a race car there.
“That’s so cool when you think about my dad being there with me and staying up to three o’clock in the morning all this week getting our car ready,” Fenhaus said of his father, Al, who won the World Championship Snowmobile Derby in 1993. “It’ll definitely be a fun and special way to celebrate Father’s Day, having him there with us at the Milwaukee Mile on Sunday.”
Action gets under way at the Milwaukee Mile on Saturday with rotating practice (Vintage Indy Registry, Midwest Truck Tour, Mid-American Stock Car Series, Upper Midwest Vintage Series and ARCA Midwest Tour Super Late Models) from 11 a.m. till 3:00 p.m. Rotating practice begins on Sunday at 9:30 a.m., with qualifying set for 11:00 a.m. The top 16 ARCA Midwest Tour qualifiers will be signing autographs in the grandstands at 12:30 p.m. Racing begins at 1:00 p.m. CDT. Reserved tickets are available online in advance at https://arcamt.racing/miletix ($25 for adults & $5 for children 0-11) or by calling the office at 217-764-3200. Tickets will also be available at the gate on Sunday. For those who can’t attend, you can enjoy all the excitement live on the special Speed51.com PPV broadcast. You can find all the information about it here: https://speed51.com/ppv-broadcast-announced-for-midwest-tour-at-milwaukee-mile/.
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.
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: Mark Vanveghel