Concord, NC -- The connection between 1992 NASCAR Champion and Hall of Famer Alan Kulwicki and the Slinger Nationals dates back to the inaugural running of the prestigious event in 1980. Kulwicki, then a 25-year-old racing up-and-comer armed with an engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, finished a strong fifth behind such legends as Larry Detjens, Jim Sauter, Dick Trickle and Mark Martin.
A determined Kulwicki returned the next year and picked up the overall 1981 victory, winning two of the four features run over the course of June and July. His strong runs continued in the years that followed and after he left for NASCAR in 1985, he continued to venture back to his “home track” to compete in the event through 1989. While he only won one Slinger Nationals crown, Kulwicki's name will always be associated with this marquee event, in part because of his long history of success at the quarter-mile bullring located northwest of Milwaukee.
The Kulwicki legacy continues on at the Slinger Nationals with drivers representing the Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP). The program was started in 2015 by Kulwicki’s stepmother, Thelma, for the purpose of helping worthy drivers toward reaching their dreams while at the same time keeping Alan’s memory and legacy alive. Since that time, several KDDP drivers have seen success in the annual battle always scheduled for a Tuesday night on the "World's Fastest Quarter Mile Oval."
The first year of the program saw the inaugural 2015 KDDP Champ Ty Majeski and runner-up Steve Apel squaring off against a talent-stacked field of Super Late Model competitors. Majeski was making a late charge, challenging local star Gary LaMonte for second when the two made contact and Majeski was sent to the back of the field. He recovered to finish fourth, while Apel ran in the top five all night long and ended up finishing third behind winner Dennis Prunty and the legendary Conrad Morgan.
In 2016, KDDP Champion Alex Prunty finished 21st after breaking a spindle just 16 laps into the race. Majeski dominated most of the battle, leading 79 laps before crashing out of the lead less than 50 laps from the finish.
The 2017 edition of the Nationals saw former KDDP drivers in the mix, as champions Majeski and Prunty, along with Slinger master Apel showed strength all race long. Majeski and short-track legend Bubba Pollard exchanged the lead several times before the two made contact after a late race restart. Ever the sportsman, Majeski observed the “Gentleman's Tap Out” rule, taking blame for the incident and voluntarily falling to the rear of the field.
Pollard, the Senoia, Georgia, racer, who was named an “Honorary KDDP Team Member” last season due to his massive support of the program, kept his position up front and held off a hard-charging Prunty to claim the popular victory. The racing legend in the making celebrated his win with a rendition of Kulwicki’s Polish Victory Lap, which had the packed grandstands cheering wildly. Prunty finished second, with Apel coming home third and Majeski rebounding to cross the finish line in fourth.
Last year’s Slinger Nationals is where it all came together for Majeski, the Seymour, Wisconsin, native, who still points to winning the inaugural 2015 “Kulwicki Cup” title as what “jump-started” his racing career. Majeski started 12th in the 2018 battle, grabbed the lead on a Lap 70 restart and survived three late-race cautions to cruise to the win. Dennis Prunty, a three-time Slinger track champion, finished second. Brad Mueller came home third, with Austin Nason fourth an Apel fifth. Alex Prunty finished seventh and Pollard ninth.
“We had really fast race cars for the last three years and finally the cards played out in our favor there last July,” said Majeski, who has been a dominant force in ARCA Menards Series competition this season, winning three races and posting five top-five finishes in five races for Chad Bryant Racing (team led by Alan Kulwicki’s championship crew chief, Paul Andrews). “The competition is so tough there. There are a half dozen guys who race there weekly and really have the place figured out. Then you add the heavy hitters coming in, along with the Cup guys…it’ll be one of the strongest starting fields you’ll see anywhere this year. Legends like Trickle, Shear and Kenseth, all heroes of mine, have won the Nationals back-to-back. If we can add our name to that list, it would be a monumental accomplishment.”
The 40th edition of the Slinger Nationals will be special for the KDDP as program representatives current and past will be in action, hoping to take home the top prize, which will be well in excess of $10,000.
Wausau, Wisconsin's Luke Fenhaus will tackle the Nationals for the first time on Tuesday. The hard-charging 15-year-old racer made his Super Late Model debut on the track two weekends ago, qualifying second and running well in the feature before falling to mechanical issues.
“I’ve really loved Slinger ever since we raced Bandos (Bandolero Cars) there when I was 10 years old,” said the 2018 State Park Speedway Super Late Model track champion. “That was the first time in a big car there a few weeks back and we had a blast. We’ve been sitting up in the grandstands for the last two Slinger Nationals. I’ve learned so much from watching and analyzing how Ty attacks the track. He’s pretty amazing there and has such a great handle on what it takes to be fast. We tried to run the line Ty uses and duplicate his techniques when we were there. It paid off as we qualified second and had a solid top-five run going until we had a flat left-front (tire). Man, we’re excited and can’t wait to get back there for the Nationals.”
Another member of the 2019 KDDP team of drivers, Paul Shafer Jr., plans on being there, even if it’s just as a spectator. “Our hopes were to be there racing, but we’ll likely be there without a car,” chuckled the popular Portage, Indiana, driver known throughout the motorsports world simply as “Pauly.” “Our major focus for the season is the (ARCA) Midwest Tour. Crashing at Rockford like we did last week got us behind. We’re still up there in the point standings and want to be really prepared for the makeup race at Wausau (State Park Speedway) in a few weeks. Just making the field for the Slinger Nationals is a huge accomplishment. You better have all your ducks in a row when you go because it’s just that tough to be competitive there.”
The starting field for Tuesday’s battle will be made up of some of the best drivers in the country, including past KDDP champs Majeski and Alex Prunty, Bubba Pollard, current NASCAR MENCS rookie Daniel Hemric, NASCAR Truck Series Champion Johnny Sauter, and Matt Kenseth, a seven-time Slinger Nationals winner. The 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series Champion will make his return to Slinger after a three-year absence.
"I remember the first time I came to the Slinger Nationals with Bobby Allison in 1984,” said Tom Roberts, Executive Director of the KDDP. “I’ve been to dozens of short tracks around the country, but nothing is like Slinger. The facility is first class, the people are great, and the racing…well, the racing is simply incredible.
“The Slinger Nationals has become an annual event for me and it’s great to see so many friendly faces and catch up with our drivers. Having our 2019 class represented there, plus so many of our stellar alumni will make for a special evening on July 9. I am so blessed to be able to be there. When I heard that our friends at Speed51 and our buddy Todd Thelen (Slinger track owner) had worked out a deal to offer a pay-per-view broadcast, it put a huge smile on my face. Folks all over the world will be able to see what my hero Dick Trickle was talking about when he said, ‘It's like flying jet fighters in a gymnasium!’ That’s so cool and I hope there’s a gazillion race fans tuned in and watching on Tuesday night if they can’t be there in person.”
Advance tickets for the 40th annual Slinger Nationals are available now at the speedway office (call 262-644-5921) or by visiting www.slingersuperspeedway.com. Also available are tickets for a special pre-race “VIP Meet and Greet” autograph session featuring Kenseth, Hemric, Sauter and other top drivers on Tuesday after qualifying concludes. The always-exciting Slinger Late Model division will also be in action on Tuesday. Qualifying is set for 4 p.m., with racing beginning at 6:45 p.m. CDT. A Wednesday night (July 10) rain date has been established.
Tuesday’s live pay-per-view will be the first live broadcast of the Slinger Nationals since 2014. There is a 100-mile driving distance “blackout” for the broadcast. For additional information and to purchase your “online ticket” for all the incredible action, please visit Speed51 at https://speed51.com/pay-per-view-broadcast-announced-for-2019-slinger-nationals/.
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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: Speed51.com