CONCORD, N.C. (April 30, 2019) – Just like NASCAR Champion and Hall of Famer Alan Kulwicki did three decades ago, 2019 Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) competitor Paul Shafer Jr. marches to the beat of a different drummer.
Kulwicki was labeled as quirky, unique and unorthodox. Those adjectives also suit Shafer perfectly. Off the track, Kulwicki was known to be the life of the party. The same can definitely be said about Shafer. However, at the speedway and on the track, Kulwicki was meticulous with details, hands-on with execution and driven to succeed. That is also the case for the rising young racing star affectionately known in the motorsports world simply as “Pauly.”
“Any comparisons to Alan Kulwicki that I receive are considered as ultimate compliments,” said the soft-spoken, yet hard-charging 22-year-old racer from Portage, Indiana. “I’m so proud to be wearing his KDDP colors this season and we can’t wait to get back out on the race track.”
Just as Kulwicki was successful in mixing his early racing career with the pursuit of a college degree (received a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in 1977), Shafer has followed a similar path. He is set to get his accounting degree from the Valparaiso University College of Business on May 19.
“There were quite a few sacrifices along the way in getting the education, but it’s been worth it and I’m sure it’ll pay dividends on down the road,” said Shafer, who halted a potential shot at the annual World Series of Asphalt title at New Smyrna (Florida) Speedway in 2018 in order to return to classes back in Indiana. “Whether I continue my studies and go after my master’s (degree) is yet to be determined.”
While he is looking forward to reaching his academic milestone next month, it is an event set for Sunday, May 5, that is Shafer’s current major concern. That’s the date of the Joe Shear Classic 200 at Madison (Wisconsin) International Speedway. It’s the season-opening race for the ARCA Midwest Tour and will mark the start of his fourth year running the series’ entire schedule.
“Right now, I’m ready to get my finals over, so I can return to focusing on racing full-time,” said Shafer. “We haven’t been in a race car since December (started 32nd & finished 21st in Snowball Derby in Pensacola, Florida) and we can’t wait to get back out there. We have all the Midwest Tour races on our schedule, with several special events such as the Slinger Nationals also included. There’s a total of about 15 to 18 races that we’ll compete in this season carrying the KDDP colors and our intentions are to be totally prepared for all of them. The days of trying to run 30 to 40 events a year, like we did back in 2015, are behind us. We’re committed to racing less, but doing more from a results standpoint.”
Just as Alan Kulwicki was when asked about his thoughts and expectations on an upcoming race, Shafer is verbose when it comes to the challenge ahead, to the point when discussing the demands the track presents and tight-lipped about how he thinks things will play out. With the 2019 ARCA Midwest Tour season-opener coming up this weekend at Madison, what’s on Shafer’s mind?
“To be honest, we really struggled at Madison the first three or four times we raced there,” said Shafer, who qualified fifth and finished fourth in last year’s visit to the half-mile Dane County, Wisconsin facility owned and operated by Gregg and Angie McCann’s since the 2015 season. “My crew chief, Chris Purdy, raced there for several years and won the points championship in one of their divisions. He really knows the place and has been tremendous in helping me there.
“We’ve worked hard on getting a good grasp on what it takes to run well there,” Shafer said. “You have to be on the bottom coming out of Turn 2. That is so key in getting around that track. Watch the guys who run the best there. You have to do a huge arc, yet still get the bottom on exit. The fast line is such that it seems like if you miss it by only a foot, it can make all the difference in the world.
“We’ve come a long way in just the last two seasons at Madison in getting the place figured out,” offered Shafer. “We’re heading back looking to get even better and improve on what we did there last season.”
Officials of the ARCA Midwest Tour and Speed51.com recently announced that all 10 of the 2019 series events will be broadcast live on Speed51, which has been named the “Official Streaming Partner of the Midwest Tour.” Seven of the events, including this Sunday’s race at Madison, can be seen at no additional charge to Speed51.com premium subscribers. The three events that will be distributed as pay-per-view broadcasts are: the return to The Milwaukee Mile for the Father’s Day 100 on June 16, the Dixieland 250 at Wisconsin International Raceway on August 6, and the Oktoberfest 200 at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway on October 6.
“That is so awesome, not just for the Midwest Tour, but for short-track racing overall,” Shafer said. “I love it. There’s a very loyal fanbase that follows the series up here in the Midwest and we have good spectator attendance at all of our races. I know that when we’ve been racing down south at tracks like Nashville and Pensacola, we always have fans who say they wish they could see us race more. Now they’ll have that opportunity. I applaud what Gregg McKarns, Bob Dillner and their staffs are doing and hope the fans will be tuning in if they can’t be at the track.”
Sunday’s schedule at Madison International Speedway sees qualifying at 12:45 p.m. CDT and racing at 2:00 p.m. Headlining the action is the prestigious 200-lap, $10,000 to win Joe Shear Classic. For additional information on the ARCA Midwest Tour, please visit https://midwesttour.racing/. For additional information on Madison International Speedway, please visit https://misracing.com/. For additional information on the 2019 ARCA Midwest Tour live broadcasts, please visit https://speed51.com/every-arca-midwest-tour-race-to-be-broadcast-live-on-speed51/.
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.
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Paul Shafer Jr. recently participated in a comprehensive interview session with officials of the KDDP. Here are some excerpts from that session:
PAULY, CAN YOU GIVE US A BRIEF BACKGROUND…WHERE YOU STARTED RACING AND WHERE YOU ARE NOW?
“Yeah, cars and automotive things have always been connected with my family. The family business (Paul’s Auto Yard) has been around forever, it seems. I’m a second-generation racer. My dad’s name is Paul, too! (chuckles). He raced what they called dirt super late models at tracks like Brownstown, Santa Fe and others. He won the track championship at Kankakee back in the 80’s. He raced late models in the 80’s and turned to Monster Trucks in the 90’s. I started racing Bandoleros at Illiana back in 2008. We continued to do that and branch out into Legends and started traveling. We did the 2011 Summer Shootout (Young Lions Division at Charlotte Motor Speedway that July). In 2012, we went straight into Supers (Super Late Models). I ran a ‘crate’ (Limited or Pro Late Model) maybe one time. I didn’t like ‘em because they had no power. We won the track championship at Illiana in 2013 and started traveling. We went down to the Snowball Derby that year and made the show. They had 65 cars there that year. We finished 15thand I’m still proud of that. We ran between 30 to 40 races in 2015 and found that it was just way too much. We’ve cut our schedule back to 15 to 20 races, competing in all the Midwest Tour shows the last few years. That’s the plan again for 2019…running for the Midwest Tour points and running some special shows like Slinger and hopefully back down to Pensacola in December.”
YOU’RE A PRETTY HANDS-ON RACER. MUCH LIKE ALAN, FOLKS WHO COME INTO THE PITS DURING RACE DAY ARE ACCUSTOMED TO SEEING YOU IN YOUR CAR, ON YOUR CAR, UNDER YOUR CAR?
“Well, a lot of that is because most of the time it’s just me, my crew chief, Chris (Purdy) and another guy or two working with us at the track. Chris has been with me since 2013 and we make a good team together. He’s a former driver and has a lot of experience behind the wheel. A lot of times, I’ve been my own tire specialist. I’m pretty much my own tire guy and shock guy everywhere we go. It’s always been that way and that tends to keep a person busy at the track. I guess you could say that I’m a lot like Alan when it comes to being hands-on. I always like to know what’s on my car and how everything works. I could never be a driver who just shows up with his helmet and uniform, ready to hop behind the wheel.”
WHERE DID THE NUMBER SEVEN COME FROM?
“Well, it’d be a great story if I said that it was because it was Alan’s number…but that’s not the case. (chuckles) The truth is that the seven was the second-easiest number to make with duct tape…behind the one. It all started when we took our Bandolero car to Illiana for our first race back in 2008. We didn’t have a number on it. A guy was there with his car all painted up with the No. 1 already on it. So, we got out the duct tape and made a No. 7 on the sides of our car. We kept the number on our cars ever since. That’s the whole story behind the number right there.”
WHAT ABOUT YOUR COLOR SCHEME? IT’S REALLY COOL AND GETS A LOT OF ATTENTION WITH ALL THE BLACK, WHITE, GREEN AND PURPLE TRIM.
“I guess you could say that it’s somewhat like what my dad ran on his cars back in the 80’s. Really, those are my favorite colors. Last year we had one car that was black with white, green and purple trim. We had another car that was white with black, green and purple trim. We’ll continue to do that this season. We actually did a poll on social media to gauge what the fans thought. Something like two-thirds preferred what we called the ‘White Lightning’ car over what we labeled our ‘Black Bandit.’ We won our first Midwest Tour race last May at Jefferson in the black car, so you know I have to really like that color scheme. (chuckles) We’ll run them both again this year. Hey, what about a purple car!”
WHERE DID YOUR QUIRKY AND UNIQUE SENSE OF HUMOR COME FROM? IS THERE ANY STORY THERE?
“(Laughing) Well, it’s not like I make a concentrated desire to be different or funny. I don’t think I inherited it or there’s anything genetic to credit…or blame. (Laughs out loud) Seriously, it’s all been kinda spontaneous…like a lot of the stuff I post on social media. Like the poll we jokingly did with we me dancing out in front of our fraternity house. We were doing the Valpo Dance Marathon to raise money for Lurie’s Children’s Hospital of Chicago. I did a little video of me dancing and asking if I should continue my cool dance moves or just stick to my racing. It’s that kind of stuff that people see and tend to think I may be a little weird. But that’s all cool. Like I said, it’s spontaneous…like friends suggesting I die my hair purple. There was no drinking involved…I promise…”
AND WHAT ABOUT THE HAIR? OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS, IT’S TAKEN OFF TO BE A HUGE STORY ON ITS OWN…SORT OF LIKE A “PAULY’S CALLING CARD” THING?
“Yeah, I started growing my hair back in 2015 when I started college. I let it grow for two years and it was like a running deal folks talked about at every race track. Then the coloring started. We started looking around to see what we could do from a charity standpoint if we cut it. We wound up shaving it back in 2017 to benefit St. Baldrick’s (Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research). Then last year, we bleached my hair before heading down to Nashville for the April CRA race. Our intentions were to color it something like the ‘Mopar purple’ you see on the Dodge Challengers out there. The only problem was that the dye we used turned it pink. I wasn’t about to go to Nashville with pink hair, so we went to a professional to get it the color we wanted. We shaved it again and now it’s been growing for almost a full year. What we’re shooting for is to have a full mullet when the season gets up and running.”
YOU’RE RACING THE FULL MIDWEST TOUR AGAIN THIS SEASON…YOU WERE IN THE HUNT FOR THE TITLE. WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON?
“We won our first series race at Jefferson last spring and wound up fourth in the final points, so it was a pretty good year for us overall. We had a few races that I think really hurt our chances in the points deal. At Rockford, we got run over by another guy and it was totally uncalled for. We blew an engine in the race at Golden Sands and we broke a spindle in the Dixieland (250 at Kaukauna, Wisconsin) after qualifying second to Ty (Majeski). At Grundy, we think we had a car that was strong enough to win. With the draw and all, we wound up having to start 16th, but were able to pass more cars than anyone to finish fourth. We came into Oktoberfest (season finale at LaCrosse, Wisconsin) fifth in the points and 30 points behind (leader Austin) Nason. It was crazy how things turned out that weekend. We crossed the finished line in fifth, but after the top three were DQ’ed, we finished second behind (Andrew) Morrissey. We wound up only 19 points behind Dalton (Zehr, 2018 champion). We were so strong at most of the races. It was just those things I mentioned that were so costly in the points.”
YOU CONTINUE TO RUN THE WHOLE MIDWEST TOUR SERIES EVERY YEAR NOW IT SEEMS. WHY DO YOU LIKE RACING THERE AND WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT THAT SERIES?
“I honestly enjoy running all the different series out there and get along with all the officials everywhere we go. But there are several things that make the Midwest Tour so special. I think it starts with the state of Wisconsin and the location and availability of race tracks. Then you add Gregg McKarns’ leadership and dedication to helping racers. He’s always committed to looking at the expenses we incur and doing everything possible to help the teams with that. All but like two of his races are one-day shows. Even with the events where we’re there for more than one day, like at LaCrosse in October, we can justify being there because we’re actually racing every day. Gregg regularly asks drivers for their opinion. He comes from a family who really knows the business from top to bottom. He’s always studying about how to make the sport better. The things he’s doing, like controlled pit stops…he’s always looking out for the best interest of our sport. His race purses are good. It’s like he focuses on making sure that everybody who starts the feature can pay their tire bill. He always considers that cutting tire bills saves the racers money. All of this is just my opinion, but I think what I’ve said is what everyone out there running the series really feels.”
YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU PARTICIPATED IN A DANCE MARATHON TO RAISE MONEY FOR A CHILDRENS HOSPITAL AND EVEN SHAVED YOUR HEAD FOR A GREAT CAUSE…ARE YOU INVOLVED IN ANY OTHER SPECIAL ACTIVITIES LIKE THAT OUT THERE?
“We’ve been involved in quite a few things that through the years, especially connected with my fraternity at college (Sigma Pi). We’ve done work with the Sean Vernon Feliciano Amazing Day Foundation. Their goals are to create awareness about mental illness and reduce the suicides of college students. We’ve also done stuff with Donate Life America, which works to increase the number of donated organs across the country. I will likely get more personally involved with those foundations. Another thing we’re really involved in is the Westchester Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Chesterton. It was actually an old city dump back in the 50’s that was on a wetland. The county got the land about 20 years ago and started cleaning it up. Then the migratory birds started coming. The Porterco Conservation Trust folks have it now and it’s such a cool project to be involved in. We work to continue restoring the wetlands by doing stuff like removing invasive plants and replacing them with native plants. We try to get out there every few weeks and lend a hand.”
-Kulwicki Driver Development Program Press Release
-Photo credit: Speed51.com photo