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2018 Kulwicki Driver Development Program competitors announced

TRPR

Officials from the Kulwicki Driver Development Program announced this week the seven drivers who will represent the organization during the 2018 racing season.

These emerging top prospects will be tasked with preserving the memory and legacy of 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Alan Kulwicki, while also competing for the rich ($54,439) and prestigious annual Kulwicki Cup Championship.

The seven drivers, in alphabetical order, are:

COLE BUTCHER, 21, PORTER’S LAKE, NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA:

The 2016 Maritime Pro Stock Tour (MPST) Champion and 2017 series runner-up, Cole Butcher has seven MPST victories since 2015. Last year, Butcher won his second Atlantic Cat 250 at Scotia (Halifax, NS) Speedworld and made several trips south of the border, posting strong finishes at Oxford Plains Speedway and Hickory Motor Speedway. He also competed in the Snowball Derby for the first time, finishing 15th after a strong early run. Butcher’s family-owned team will compete for the MPST title again in 2018 and will continue a relationship with Donnie Wilson Racing for several U.S. starts, including the All American 400 in Nashville, Tenn., and a return trip to the Snowball Derby in Pensacola, Fla. Butcher returns to the Kulwicki Driver Development Program fold after posting a fourth-place finish in 2017.

JUSTIN CARROLL, 21, CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA:

When all was said and done with the 2017 racing season, Justin Carroll had a most impressive year. Carroll won the CARS Tour “Throwback 276” at Hickory Motor Speedway, racing cleanly while three-wide with his fellow competitors for the final twenty laps before coming out on top. To cap it off, Carroll’s paint scheme that night paid tribute to Wisconsin short track legend Dick Trickle, a longtime on-track rival of Alan Kulwicki and good friend away from the track. A multiple-time winner in both Late Model Stock Cars and Pro Late Models, Carroll and his family-owned team will participate in both CARS Tour and NASCAR Whelen All American Series action again this season. Carroll was a 2017 Kulwicki Driver Development Program semifinalist.

DEREK GRIFFITH, 21, HUDSON, NEW HAMPSHIRE:

There is perhaps no other Super Late Model racer in the Eastern United States that has put more miles on their hauler over the past two seasons than New Hampshire’s Derek Griffith. Traveling from the snowy North to the World Series of Asphalt Racing in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., the past two winters, Griffith has also come South for several PASS South and National Tour races. He picked up an early season win in February in PASS action at Dillon Motor Speedway, outdueling several of the country’s top Super Late Model teams. A 28-time winner in his career, Griffith will again compete for the PASS North championship, run with the Granite State Pro Stock Series (he is the 2015 series champion), and other races yet to be announced. Griffith was a 2017 Kulwicki Driver Development Program semifinalist.

MOLLY HELMUTH, 22, SEATTLE, WASHINGTON:

A three-time Most Popular Driver at her home track of Evergreen (Wash.) Speedway, Molly Helmuth is expanding her racing schedule significantly in 2018, both in quantity and geographic area. Helmuth will compete at Evergreen, run in the Northwest Super Late Model Series and venture to compete in the East Coast in CARS Tour Super Late Model Tour action. Helmuth will partner with Will Jones and his J&J Racing Unlimited team for the entire nine-race CARS Tour season. Helmuth is a 2017 graduate of Western Governors University, where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing.

JUSTIN MONDEIK, 21, GLEASON, WISCONSIN:

Over the final two months of the 2017 racing season in the Midwest, very few drivers could have improved more than Wisconsin’s Justin Mondeik. After missing the first ARCA Midwest Tour race of the season and destroying his primary car in a frightening wreck at Gateway International Speedway in June, Mondeik and his family-run team went on a tear. Mondeik rattled off multiple top-10 finishes and greatly improved his qualifying prowess. Mondeik finished 10th in the 2017 ARCA Midwest Tour points and just missed out on the Rookie-of-the-Year crown. In 2018, Mondeik will compete for ARCA Midwest, TUNDRA Series, and State Park (Wausau, Wis.) Speedway championships, plus compete in additional races in Central Wisconsin. He is currently attending Michigan Tech University and is hoping to graduate with a Mechanical Engineering degree in 2019. Mondeik finished fifth in the 2017 Kulwicki Driver Development Program standings.

BRETT YACKEY, 18, GREELEY, COLORADO:

The son of Colorado racing legend Bruce Yackey, Brett Yackey has established himself as a racer to watch heading into the 2018 season. A multiple-time winner at I-25 (Pueblo, Colo.) Speedway, Yackey finished third in the season standings at the highly competitive Colorado National (Dacono, Colo.) Speedway (CNS). A high school senior with a 3.75+ GPA, Yackey will compete for the track title at CNS again in 2018, along with select races at other tracks in the Rocky Mountain region. He was the 2016 NASCAR Whelen All American Series Colorado State Rookie of the Year. Yackey finished a close third in the 2017 Kulwicki Driver Development Program standings.

BRITTNEY ZAMORA, 18, KENNEWICK, WASHINGTON:

A freshman studying Elementary and Special Education at Washington State University, Brittney Zamora burst onto the Super Late Model scene in 2017 with two race wins and the Northwest Super Late Model Series points championship. Zamora was the first female racer to win a SLM championship in the Pacific Northwest. This season, Zamora will race for the track title at Evergreen (Wash.) Speedway and compete in several big shows on the West Coast, including the Montana 200 in Kalispell, Mont., and the Fall Classic at The Bullring in Las Vegas.

* * *

” This is an incredible team of promising young racers that will be carrying Alan’s colors this season,” said Tom Roberts, Executive Director of the KDDP and Kulwicki’s longtime confidant. “Each driver knows how to win races and contend for championships. When you take time to analyze their backgrounds, you have to agree that Alan would approve of all of them. We’re convinced that this could be the most competitive season ever – both on and off the track – for our program. With the current void of rising young women competitors in stock car racing’s big leagues, we are confident that we have two of the most talented females out there who are among our seven drivers. Everyone involved with the KDDP is doing everything they can to help Alan get voted into the NASCAR Hall-of-Fame this year. He is long overdue. That’s one of the first things these seven drivers will be focusing on as they will all be using the hashtag #AK4HOF in their social media activities.

“I applaud our board members for their diligent work in deciding on these seven drivers for our 2018 class.”The quantity and quality of applicants we received this year was so impressive. The 21 semifinalists we had were so outstanding that I personally feel we could have had three different teams of seven worthy drivers. But unfortunately, we are limited to only seven drivers chosen each season. Today’s announcement will certainly bring much jubilation, but also understandably a degree of disappointment. Ultimately, what we hope it produces is a lot of self-evaluation.”

Wisconsin driver Alex Prunty has experienced the KDDP application and voting process from all angles. A semifinalist in 2015, he was not voted to be among the finalists for the program’s inaugural season. Prunty applied again for the 2016 edition of the program and not only was voted a finalist, he also won the Kulwicki Cup Championship.

“Honestly it really was disappointing in 2015, but I looked at it more as an opportunity,” Prunty said earlier this week at his Lomira, Wisconsin shop. “I actually used not making the Final 7 in 2015 as a huge challenge. That entire season we worked hard to improve my program and start to get comfortable in the Super Late Model class. I was also able to learn from the seven drivers who did make it in on what I needed to do to win the following year.

“After not being selected in 2015, I took it personally,” recalled Prunty, who finished third in Slinger (Wis.) Speedway SLM points last season and won Rockford (Ill.)Speedway’s prestigious 52nd Annual National Short Track Championship (NSTC) battle last fall. “It lit a fire under me to prove to the board and everyone out there that I did belong in the KDDP. It gave me a constant motivation to not cut any corners and constantly feel the need to prove myself. ‘Make ‘em believe’ became my motto…and it still is today.”

The 2018 season will mark the fourth fully-functioning year for the KDDP, which was established in 2014 by the family of late NASCAR Champion Alan Kulwicki for the purpose of helping worthy drivers toward reaching their dreams while at the same time keeping Alan’s memory and legacy alive.

The seven drivers announced today as members of the 2018 KDDP class will each receive a one-time stipend of $7,777 to cover operational expenses. The organization will work to provide the drivers assistance in important aspects such as publicity, marketing, sponsorship development and industry networking during the season as they compete for the grand prize “Kulwicki Cup.”

That award winner will pick up an additional check worth seven times the initial prize ($7,777 x 7 = $54,439) and a special unique trophy. Seymour, Wisconsin’s Ty Majeski won the inaugural Kulwicki Cup in 2015, while Prunty claimed the 2016 title. Marietta, Georgia’s Cody Haskins returned from being a 2016 finalist (finished sixth) to win the 2017 Kulwicki Cup Championship.

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.

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He is also the associate motorsports editor of Autoweek Magazine and its website, which allows him to cover the highest levels of the sport.

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