CONCORD, N.C. -- This weekend marks the “six-weeks-to-go-point” in the 2017 Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) and the competition at the top of the standings could not be any closer. Take a quick look at the current “on-track” points, with two separate evaluations remaining by the KDDP advisory board before the 2017 Kulwicki Cup Champion is named:
Michael Ostdiek - 88 (3 wins)
Brett Yackey - 88 (2 wins)
Braison Bennett - 88 (1 win)
Cole Butcher - 76 (1 win)
Cody Haskins - 76 (1 win)
John Peters - 52
Justin Mondeik - 48
“What’s so cool and unique about our program is that the on-track performance is only one aspect that enters into the equation in winning our prestigious (and rich; worth $54,439) Kulwicki Cup award,” said KDDP executive director Tom Roberts. “After we announced the initial point standings back in August, all of our drivers have stepped up their performances in both on and off-track activities.
“What has impressed me the most is the dedication all of these drivers share,” Roberts said. “Whether they are balancing racing and school, racing and work or racing and family, these young men are representing our program in really remarkable fashion and we’re so proud of all of them.”
Since early August, KDDP drivers have posted seven wins and 16 top-five finishes, with Lakeville, Minnesota's Michael Ostdiek leading the way. Ostdiek has posted three wins in NASCAR Whelen All American Series (NWAAS) action at Elko (MN) Speedway. "While Michael has struggled somewhat recently in ARCA Midwest Tour racing, he has really stepped up his game at his home track, despite running only part time,” said Roberts. “Now he's back in school at Iowa State, hitting the books and looking to close out his season strong. The tremendous job he has done with young fans at his home track has been so impressive. Michael is such a likable young man and is starting to develop a sizable fan following, not just in Minnesota, but on a national scale, too.”
Colorado's Brett Yackey has stepped up his performance as well, garnering two checkered flags at I-25 (CO) Speedway and running up front at Colorado National Speedway in Erie, Colorado. Yackey, a high school senior, led his Greeley North High School football team to its first win in almost two years, gaining 315 total yards. "I don't know what I'm more impressed by; Brett's recent wins or his amazing play on the football field," noted Roberts. "For his first full season in a super late model, Brett has made incredible progress. He is in the mix against tough competition at Colorado National every week and I expect that he will get his breakthrough win there sometime soon."
Nova Scotia's Cole Butcher picked up the victory in the prestigious Atlantic Cat 250 at Scotia Speedworld on August 13 and continues to consistently post top-five finishes in Maritime Pro Stock Series action. "It was a thrill to see Cole's Atlantic Cat 250 win in person and I’ll always have great memories of being there celebrating the huge accomplishment with his family and team,” said Roberts. “We are excited that he is going to hook back up with Donnie Wilson and run some super late model races at the end of the year south of the border. It would not surprise me in the least to see him in victory lane stateside.”
If the KDDP program gave out a hard luck award, it would have to go to Neenah, Wisconsin's Braison Bennett. At the outset of 2017, Bennett planned on running for TUNDRA Series Rookie of the Year and for track championships at Wisconsin International Raceway (WIR) and Slinger (WI) Speedway. Bennett has persevered through miserable luck, having been taken out in multiple accidents not of his own making. His small, self-owned team has thrashed night after night to get one of his cars ready for the track. His hard work paid off with a strong second-place finish in the Big 8 Series race at the Dixieland 250 early last month and he scored his first win of the season on August 31 at WIR. "In many ways, Braison is what the Kulwicki program is all about," said Roberts. "Alan suffered through a lot of adversity early in his career, but look how it turned out for him. Braison just keeps pushing – never giving up -- and we are impressed with what he has been able to accomplish this year."
After scoring a win his first night out at Greenville-Pickens (SC) Speedway back in April, two-time KDDP participant Cody Haskins has posted multiple top-five and top-10 finishes, but has yet to revisit Victory Lane. Haskins expanded his personal driver development program for Jensen and Taylor Jorgensen, overseeing their progression into Pro Truck and Pro Late Model series racing, while also raising money for and visiting patients at the Shriner's Hospital in Greenville. "We have been so proud of Cody this year," said Roberts. "His performance on the track has been consistent, but he has really excelled off the track. Like all of our drivers, Cody is a strong advocate not just for our program, but for Alan's legacy, too."
Like fellow Wisconsin native Bennett, Gleason, Wisconsin's Justin Mondeik has struggled through some bad luck this year, too, but has made great progress throughout the season. Mondeik overcame a spectacular accident in ARCA Midwest Tour action at Gateway International Raceway back in June, returning to the tour without missing a race and continuing his aggressive central Wisconsin schedule at Wausau, Plover, and Marshfield. Mondeik and his family-run team have made great strides this season, becoming more consistent during the race and improving his qualifying. "Justin has a never-say-die attitude and we have tremendous respect for him as a person and as a driver,” said Roberts. “He shows up, works hard and races clean. While he doesn't have a win yet this year, the top-fives and top-10s are starting to come. He understands what it takes to be a successful racer these days and his rapport with his sponsors and fans is second to none.”
For Westbrook, Maine's John Peters, on-track incidents and adversity are both obstacles he can relate to. Running among the top-three drivers early in the annual Boss Hog 150 at Wiscasset (ME) Speedway, Peters got caught up in a wreck not of his own making. Trying to avoid a stalled car in the middle of the track, Peters ended up in a horrific crash. In addition to ripping the right side of his race car off and destroying the rear clip, the hard impact caved in the center section of the chassis and broke the motor mounts on his family-owned car. Even worse, he began to suffer from concussion-like symptoms and had to go through concussion protocols and a CT scan. Peters and his team decided to carry on in 2017, purchasing a car from fellow competitor Mike Landry, and returned to the track late last month. In a recent Granite State Pro Stock Series (GSPSS) race at Star (NH) Speedway, Peters finished second, his best finish of the year. "John has overcome a lot this season, and we're glad to see him back on the track and running so well," noted Roberts. "We were especially pleased with his Kulwicki Kid program at Beech Ridge this year. This program is all about sharing Alan's story with a new generation, and John did a great job of that. It was so heartwarming to see photos of all the kids and the huge smiles on their faces.”
The second 2017 KDDP point standings will be released on September 27, exclusively on Speed51.com, the organization’s official media partner.
-Kulwicki Driver Development Program Press Release