Officials of the Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) announced the seven drivers who will represent the organization during the 2017 racing season. The seven drivers hail from five different states and Canada and range in age from 17 to 25.
The seven drivers, in alphabetical order, are:
BRAISON BENNETT, 21, NEENAH, WISCONSIN
The son of legendary Wisconsin short track racer Lowell Bennett, Braison made a name for himself in 2016, winning late model track championships at Wisconsin International Raceway (WIR) and Slinger Speedway. In his first full season running super late models, Braison earned the Rookie of the Year title in the highly-competitive TUNDRA Series, picking up several top 10 finishes. An auto mechanic by trade, Braison will defend his track crowns in 2017, run the TUNDRA Series full-time in a super late model, and will expand his super late model schedule as time allows. Braison takes pride in going the extra mile for his fans, giving away trophies and apparel to young fans, and promoting the sport by participating in parades and other community events.
COLE BUTCHER, 20, PORTER'S LAKE, NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA
The first Canadian competitor selected for the Kulwicki Driver Development Program, Cole Butcher has established himself as one of the drivers to beat in the Maritime Provinces, winning the Maritime Pro Stock Series title in 2016. He also won the prestigious Atlantic Cat 250, and traveled over a thousand miles to compete in the 2016 Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. A Business Administration student at the Maritime Business Academy, Butcher will defend his Maritime title in 2017, run select PASS North races as his schedule allows, and make a return trip to Pensacola in December. Butcher and his family are very active with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, having granted wishes to more than 15 children and raising more than $200,000 for the program.
CODY HASKINS, 25, MARIETTA, GEORGIA
A 2016 Kulwicki Driver Development Program finalist, Cody Haskins makes his return to the program with new race cars, an expanded schedule, and something to prove. At the end of the 2016 season, Haskins liquidated his racing inventory, ended his season earlier than expected and started from scratch preparing for 2017. The new cars paid off as Haskins swept the season opening doubleheader at Greenville-Pickens (South Carolina) Speedway earlier in March. A vice president at KRC Power Steering Components, Haskins will branch out this season, running the full CARS Tour Late Model Stock Car schedule, select NWAAS races in South Carolina and hopes to return to super late model racing later in the year.
JUSTIN MONDEIK, 20, GLEASON, WISCONSIN
Hailing from Northern Wisconsin, Justin Mondeik has made a name for himself running the tracks that used to make up the ultra-competitive Central Wisconsin Racing Association (CWRA), winning Rookie of the Year at State Park, Golden Sands, and Marshfield Speedways in 2016. He branched out into ARCA Midwest Tour competition for the first time, finishing 8th in his first race at State Park, where he was a track champion in 2015. For 2017, Mondeik plans to race nearly 40 times, tackling the full ARCA Midwest Tour & TUNDRA Series schedules and other special events as his time allows. This fall, he will enter Michigan Tech University and begin working toward his Mechanical Engineering degree.
MICHAEL OSTDIEK, 19, LAKEVILLE, MINNESOTA
The third-place finisher in the 2016 Kulwicki Driver Development Program, Iowa State University sophomore Michael Ostdiek became a force to be reckoned with throughout the Midwest. A winner in both Elko (Minnesota) Speedway super late model and Big 8 Series competition, Ostdiek and his family-owned team will run the full 2017 ARCA Midwest Tour schedule and selected Big 8 races & local races at his home track at Elko. A Marketing and Management major, Ostidek comes from a racing family. His grandfather, John, once owned Elko Speedway and Raceway Park in Minnesota. Michael started his own driver mentorship program in 2016, assisting young quarter midget racers.
JOHN PETERS, 20, WESTBROOK, MAINE
After just missing the cut for the 2016 Kulwicki Driver Development Program, Maine's John Peters will compete for the Kulwicki Cup in 2017. A regular competitor at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Maine, Peters will expand his schedule this year, tackling several PASS North and Granite State Pro Stock Series races. Peters picked up his first late model victory at Beech Ridge in 2016, and finished in 8th position in the season point standings. A Business Administration student at Southern New Hampshire University, Peters is a sponsorship-generating and marketing machine, securing funding for his own team, while also developing social media and marketing strategies for his competitors. Like all KDDP competitors, Peters is very involved in his local community, working to raise money for breast cancer research, a local food bank, and the March of Dimes, among other causes.
BRETT YACKEY, 17, GREELEY, COLORADO
The youngest competitor in the 2017 Kulwicki Driver Development Program, Colorado's Brett Yackey is coming off a season that saw him win a title at his home track (Colorado National Speedway) and earn the 2016 NWAAS Colorado State Rookie of the Year. The son of perennial race winner and track champion, Bruce Yackey, Brett will step up to compete in super late model competition full time in 2017, running at both Colorado National Speedway and I-25 Speedway in Pubelo, Colorado. A high school junior, Brett has been giving back to his community since a young age, raising money for Brent's Place, a local charity, and visiting patients at the Denver Children's Hospital.
The 2017 season will mark the third 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.
"I think this was the strongest group of semifinalists we've had from top to bottom so far," said KDDP Executive Director Tom Roberts. "After narrowing all the original applications down to a top-15 list, our advisory board had the monumental task of selecting just seven drivers out of that group. I'm convinced that there were at least a dozen of those candidates who would have made exemplary representatives for the KDDP, but unfortunately, we are structured to support only seven drivers per year.
"I applaud our board for being so active in selecting our seven drivers for the 2017 season," said Roberts. "They spent many hours evaluating and re-evaluating, asking questions about their 2017 schedules, tracks, series, and so much more. I think that the most important aspect of the process in determining our drivers came in the final 'open topic' conference call that our board had. During that conversation, I think several of the candidates were eliminated due to the belief that they could not fulfill the criteria of competing in a minimum 15 races during the Kulwicki Cup judging period. Also in that conversation, it became very clear what really matters to our board. Beyond just on-track results, they place a strong emphasis on community engagement, education, and honoring the legacy of Alan Kulwicki. Our drivers have all done a great job honoring Alan over the last two years, and we are all excited to see what this year's group does, especially as we make a strong push to get Alan into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
"I am thrilled with all the drivers our board has selected for 2017 and we are eager to get the season going in working with them," said Roberts. "As I said, we had several worthy candidates who didn't make our team this season. We are certainly hoping that they continue to show progress both on and off the track and will apply again this fall for the 2018 edition of our program.
"Support for the program has been off the charts so far this year. Series, track promoters, and media reps from drivers' hometowns have all reached out inquiring about the program and the process. We look forward to having their support this season in helping our program continue to grow. It is especially exciting to have Canada and the state of Colorado represented for the first time, as they are two hotbeds of short track racing. It's going to be an incredible 2017 and we're excited to get it started."
The seven drivers announced today 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 Lomira, Wisconsin's Alex Prunty narrowly defeated Jay, Maine's Dave Farrington, Jr. for the 2016 title.
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.