CONCORD, N.C. – Heading into the Memorial Day weekend, the 2017 Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) is beginning to hit its stride as all drivers will begin to see regular action in the coming weeks. Whether is it was rain, cold weather, college classes, or just bad luck, the racing season is really just getting started for several program participants.
“The 2017 season’s battle for the Kulwicki Cup started back on April 1, but this spring has been brutal for trying to get races in,” said KDDP Executive Director Tom Roberts. “The guys worked hard all winter to get their equipment ready for the track as soon as the weather turned, but it has been a challenge for sure.”
While still very early in the season, Porter Lake, Nova Scotia’s Cole Butcher and Marietta, Georgia’s Cody Haskins have established themselves as potentially the drivers to beat with very strong finishes against good competition.
Butcher started defending his 2016 Maritime Pro Stock Tour Championship off with a second-place finish at Scotia Speedworld last Saturday, a strong result after falling to the rear with a flat tire just a few laps into the feature race. He also turned a lot of heads with a fourth-place finish in PASS South action at Hickory on April 15 and a run from 27th to fourth at Oxford Plains Speedway in the PASS North battle during the final weekend of April.
Haskins picked up a win at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in NASCAR Whelen All American Series (NWAAS) action back on April 1, and has not finished outside of the top 5 in four subsequent races. Haskins will be back in action at Greenville-Pickens on June 3. He looks to return to CARS Tour action on June 10 when the series hits Anderson (SC) Motor Speedway, a track where Haskins has seen past success.
“Both Cole and Cody have run well to start the season,” Roberts noted. “They both have already shown so much potential. We’re hoping they can keep it going all season long and put the KDDP colors in victory lane many times this year.”
The Upper Midwest contingent of KDDP drivers — Braison Bennett, Justin Mondeik, and Michael Ostdiek — have had mixed results this season, but all are looking forward to turning things around this weekend.
Bennett, a second generation drivers out of Neenah, Wisconsin, is making the move up to super late model racing this season, racing at Golden Sands Speedway and with the TUNDRA Series in addition to weekly late model racing at Slinger Speedway and Wisconsin International Raceway (WIR). To date, though, he has had a run of bad luck, severely damaging his SLM in an accident at WIR back on May 13 and suffering mechanical issues with his late model at Slinger. However, he has managed two strong top-10 runs in weekly action and is looking to have a strong run at Slinger this Sunday.
Recent technical college graduate Justin Mondeik posted a lead-lap, seventh-place finish in the ARCA Midwest Tour race at State Park Speedway in Wausau, Wisconsin last Sunday and is looking forward to a strong run Saturday at Jefferson Speedway. Mondeik has a very ambitious 2017 schedule, hoping to run more than 30 super late model races this summer.
For Lakeville, Minnesota’s Michael Ostdiek, a top-10 finish at Wausau put his season on the right track after a 16th-place run in the ARCA Midwest Tour opener at Madison early this month. The Iowa State University junior and rising racing star is competing for ARCA Midwest Tour Rookie of the Year honors (along with Mondeik), and will fit in as many NWAAS races at his home track at Elko Speedway as he can.
“While Braison, Justin, and Michael have had some tough luck to start the year, we are very excited for what the season holds for these talented young drivers,” said Roberts. “Alan Kulwicki certainly did not win every race he entered and suffered through accidents and mechanical failures, too. What separated Alan from the pack — as it also will these young drivers — is that he never gave up and always tried to learn from every setback.”
The final two 2017 KDDP competitors — Maine’s John Peters and Colorado’s Brett Yackey — will tackle tough NWAAS action at their respective home tracks of Beech Ridge (Maine) Motor Speedway and Colorado National Speedway this weekend.
Peters, along with 2015 & 2016 KDDP finalist Dave Farrington Jr. and other top competitors, will open the season at Beech Ridge this Saturday night. The competition at the legendary Scarborough, Maine oval continues to be strong, with Peters hoping to assert himself as a driver to beat this season after a consistent rookie campaign in 2016.
Yackey already has several races under his belt this season, with four top-10s at Colorado National and a second-place finish at I-25 Speedway (in Pueblo, Colorado) last Saturday night. Competing full time in a super late model has been a learning experience for Yackey, but his family-run team continues to make progress each week against very good competition at Colorado National.
“I am really looking forward to seeing how John stacks up against the competition at Beech Ridge this year,” said Roberts. “He has a tall order taking on guys like Farrington and Reid Lanpher each week, but he came on so strong there at the end of last season. I’m confident he can be a consistent frontrunner there this year. Brett has already shown so much promise this season. We’ve been so impressed with the strides that he has made so far. He will definitely be one of the drivers to beat by the time summer rolls around.
“The drivers have already been so impressive in representing the KDDP in their off-track activities and we are so proud of all of them,” Roberts added. “While the weather and other obstacles might have hampered the number of races they’ve been able to compete in so far, they have certainly made their presence known with their community involvement and social media skills. Those aspects mean so much to our program. All the drivers realize the significance and are doing some tremendous work out there.”
-Kulwicki Driver Development Program Press Release. Photo credit: Speed51.com