Concord, N.C. – Noted auto racing and college football broadcaster Dr. Jerry Punch will serve as the featured guest speaker at this year’s Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) awards banquet. The evening will also feature a short-track racing “State of the Union Address” by respected veteran racer Bubba Pollard. The annual gala event is set for Thursday, December 13, in the Speedway Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway and will feature a live streaming broadcast on Speed51.com.
Punch grew up in Newton, North Carolina, and got his first taste in broadcasting when he was selected to be part of a local radio team representing Newton-Conover High School. He was a walk-on at North Carolina State and served as a backup quarterback playing for legendary coach Lou Holtz. After graduating magna cum laude in 1975 with a degree in Zoology, Punch went on to receive his medical degree from Wake Forest School of Medicine in 1979. During his med school years, he subsidized his educational expenses through prize money he earned racing at short tracks in his home state.
Punch began his professional broadcasting career in 1980 as a reporter for Motor Racing Network (MRN). In 1982, he served as an emergency room physician at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, while also continuing his growth in broadcasting. He moved up the road to serve as director of emergency medicine at Bunnell Community Hospital in Palm Coast, Florida, when he began working for ESPN as a pit reporter for NASCAR races in 1984. That began a stellar career Punch enjoyed with “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” that spread to not only position him as one of the most recognized and popular motorsports broadcasters, but also included decades of college football coverage.
“We are so pleased to have Dr. Punch join the group for our annual celebration and can’t wait to hear him speak,” said KDDP Executive Director Tom Roberts. “During all of his years working with ESPN, ‘Doc Punch’ developed extremely close relationships with many of the drivers. That certainly was the case with Alan Kulwicki. He was the TV reporter there interviewing Alan when he won his first NASCAR Cup race in 1988 at Phoenix. It was also ‘Doc Punch’ who was there at Atlanta interviewing Alan after he won the NASCAR Cup Championship in 1992. It’s so appropriate to have ‘Doc Punch,’ who knew Alan so well and appreciated him so much, as our featured speaker during the season that Alan was finally voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.”
“Alan Kulwicki epitomized the ultimate underdog,” said Punch. “He was certainly the most focused and determined driver I have ever been around. He always had the mentality of a winner and a champion. Even though he was the little guy, operating as a driver and owner with much fewer resources and personnel compared to the bigger teams, he never let that be an obstacle and get in the way of achieving his dream.
“We enjoyed a great relationship from the first time we met at the race track,” Punch said. “I had actually gotten familiar with Alan back in 1985 when I was working the Busch Series race at Milwaukee and he won the pole. When he moved to the South to run for the Cup Rookie of the Year in 1986, I already had my eye on him as a driver with a bright future. I knew how dedicated Alan was and understood that the garage area was his workplace. I think that the mutual respect we had for each other was evident in every interview we did together. I was so happy to see him get voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame this year as he is so deserving. I’m thrilled to be able to share my memories of him with the KDDP group gathered there in a few weeks.”
Pollard, the 31-year-old driver who hails from Senoia, Georgia, is on course to be one of the most successful competitors in motorsports history. The third-generation racer won local bicycle races as a kid on a two-wheeled vehicle that he built himself. He progressed through Legend Cars into Pro Late Models back in 2002, winning six features and the track championship at Senoia Speedway. He ventured into Super Late Model racing in 2003 and started racking up victory after victory. Pollard broadened his racing horizon through the years and began to chase checkered flags in the biggest races across North America. In 2011, Pollard was chosen as the inaugural Georgia Racing Hall of Fame Driver of the Year and voted as the Speed51.com Driver of the Year by fans across the country.
Pollard’s remarkable racing resume includes victories in most every prestigious short track event from coast to coast. Just last year, he returned to Slinger Speedway in Wisconsin for the second year to win the Slinger Nationals on Alan Kulwicki’s “home track.” This season, Pollard took the checkered flag in the Oxford 250 in Maine in his first-ever visit and claimed the victory in the inaugural Canadian Short Track Nationals at the Jukasa Motor Speedway in Cayuga, Ontario, Canada.
“Bubba Pollard is unquestionably the most respected and popular short track racer in North America today,” said Roberts. “His legend continues to grow every time he takes to the track. When Bubba speaks, everybody listens. The phrase ‘been there, done that’ is so appropriate when it comes to discussing Bubba and his incredible career. Very deservingly, he has become a racing icon to all the fans, media members and promoters alike. We are thrilled to have Bubba join us for the evening and hear his unique perspective about our sport.”
“Alan Kulwicki was always one of my biggest heroes growing up,” said Pollard. “My dad and I always looked up to him because he worked on his own cars and we respected the way he handled himself. He was always smooth as a competitor and was able to get the most out of all of his equipment. What he was able to achieve as an owner/driver was unheard of and he earned so much respect during his short career.
“I’ve been following the Kulwicki program for several years now and appreciate so much what they’re doing for short track racing,” Pollard said. “I was honestly flattered when they asked me to attend this year’s banquet and speak. I’m really looking forward to it.”
The banquet will occur on the eve of what would have been Kulwicki’s 64th birthday and will celebrate the fourth full year for the organization that bears his name. All seven competitors who represented the KDDP during the 2018 racing season will be recognized. Highlighting the activities for the evening will be the presentation of the winner’s check for $54,439 and the special KDDP “Kulwicki Cup” trophy to 2018 champion Brett Yackey of Greeley, Colorado.
Speed 51.com, the official media partner of the KDDP, will provide free live streaming coverage of the event beginning at 7 p.m. ET on December 13. Speed 51’s Bob Dillner will serve as emcee for the evening.
“We are so blessed to enjoy the outstanding relationship we have with Bob and his Speed51 team,” Roberts said. “They have been with us since the planning stages of our organization and their support through the years has been invaluable. Our banquet may be closed to the public as for actual attendance, but thanks to Speed51.com, everyone across the globe will be able to log on, tune in and enjoy all the evening’s activities.”
-KDDP Press Release