When Alan Kulwicki was named to the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class last Wednesday afternoon, it was reason to celebrate for his many fans and supporters who have been pulling for his inclusion since he was first nominated back in 2015.
That was certainly the case for everyone associated with the Kulwicki Driver Development Program. Last Wednesday was nearly four years ago to the day that Tom Roberts, Paul Andrews and Tony Gibson were among the group gathered at a press conference to announce the formation of the KDDP. That media event at The Speedway Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway took place the very same day that the Hall of Fame announced its 2015 class.
"I distinctly remember (PRN Radio's) Doug Rice and others feverishly checking their phones to see who had made the Hall," recalled KDDP Executive Director Tom Roberts. "I was so excited to announce the formation of the KDDP and that Paul and Tony were our first board members. But at the same time, I remember thinking 'Man, wouldn't it be great if this program could also help Alan's cause for getting into the Hall of Fame, too?'”
Well, four years of waiting and four years of KDDP classes later, Roberts' dream has come true.
"I was so honored to be at the ceremony last Wednesday,” Roberts said. “For Alan's name to be called in the presence of his peers like Mark Martin, legends like Bobby Allison and close friends like Paul and Evelyn Andrews and Peter Jellen, it was a moment I’ll never forget. Having Jan Beatty, Mark Horn, Tom Grady, Carter Thompson and so many who have been active with our organization there for the big announcement was so special. I know how proud that Gerry and Thelma Kulwicki would have been. Tony Gibson wanted to be there, but he had to finish getting the SHR cars ready for the Coca-Cola 600. Sam and Jewel Roberts, Alan’s closest remaining relatives, were unable to make it up from Florida, but we all realize just how special and important it was to them.
“So many people deserve to be thanked for their persistent push to get Alan voted into the Hall over the last few years,” Roberts noted. “Several members of the voting panel, especially guys like Mike Joy and Eddie Gossage, seemed to have taken it on as a personal mission. We will always be grateful to all the voters for supporting Alan and finally getting him in.
“It should also be noted how important the massive and impressive media support was for Alan this time around,” added Roberts. “There were so many features done commemorating the 25th anniversary of losing him back on April 1 that it inspired countless individuals to learn all they could about Alan.
“Alan has always had such a supportive group of media representatives from his home state of Wisconsin and they were extremely active in getting the word out this time around. Guys like Dave Kallmann, Jim Tretow, Todd Behling and Nicholas Dettmann contributed so much and deserve ample appreciation. Alan’s family friends from up there, such as Doug Mayr, Father Dale Grubba, Jim Rauth and the late Dennis Czarnyszka and Terry Jeffords were responsible for keeping Alan’s flame burning through all the years and that certainly needs to be pointed out.
“Our affiliation with Bob Dillner and his fantastic staff at Speed51.com has been nothing short of a true blessing for our organization ever since day one,” Roberts said. “Bob and his extremely talented personnel have been huge proponents for getting Alan voted in and their continuous support for every aspect of the KDDP is priceless.
“The timing of the incredible ‘Dinner with Racers’ project could not have been better,” said Roberts. “We’ve been fortunate through the years to have educational tools like Father Grubba’s book (“Alan Kulwicki: NASCAR Champion: Against All Odds”) and Bradley Weber’s movie (“Dare to Dream: The Alan Kulwicki Story”) out there. But I’ll always feel like the effort by Sean Heckman, Ryan Eversley and the ‘Dinner with Racers” crew to educate a whole new generation about Alan was of paramount importance and we’ll always be thankful to them.
“Last Wednesday was a monumental day for all the aspiring young short-track racers out there,” Roberts said. “It was the ultimate example of the importance of chasing your dreams and never giving up. Alan was a winner and a champion for the last 25 years. Appropriately, now he will now also always be remembered as a Hall-of-Famer.”
For KDDP drivers past and present, a sense of pride, fulfillment, joy and relief is omnipresent among their ranks.
Alex Prunty, the 2016 KDDP champion, noted, "It almost feels like a relief knowing that Alan has finally made it into the Hall of Fame. We all have been so patiently waiting for it to happen, knowing all the while that he deserves to have been there. I'm so happy to celebrate this with all of his fans. Alan's legacy has touched all of us in a profound and inspirational way and it's a beautiful thing to see it live on." (On May 20 at the Slinger Super Speedway, Prunty scored a victory in the prestigious Alan Kulwicki Memorial and celebrated with the now traditional "Polish Victory Lap" to honor Kulwicki.)
“It was awesome to see Alan make it into the Hall of Fame this year,” said Ty Majeski, the organization’s inaugural champion in 2015 and now a NASCAR XFINITY Series driver with Roush Fenway Racing. “He has had a huge impact on my career as well as so many others. He couldn’t be more deserving.”
Kulwicki's story still proves inspirational for 2015 KDDP fourth-place finisher, Cole Williams. Echoing some of the comments heard from NASCAR Hall of Fame voters, the Sellersburg, Indiana native noted, "Alan Kulwicki was a man who had his own plan when it came to being successful in NASCAR. Doing it his way, as a small team, he never quit."
Being from Wisconsin and a mechanical engineering student, 2017 and 2018 KDDP participant Justin Mondeik has a lot in common with Kulwicki and sees the five-time NASCAR Winston Cup race winner as "the ultimate role model." Mondeik, who picked up his first Super Late Model feature win at State Park Speedway last Thursday night, said "I will never forget the emotions I felt during the announcement and I am very proud to carry his name on my race cars."
Dave Farrington Jr., a two-time KDDP class member and runner-up to Prunty in 2016, noted, “It’s such an overwhelming feeling to see Alan (get voted) into the NASCAR Hall. He was such an inspiring racer who did it his way and built the little team that could. I have been very honored to be able to race under his name, number and colors and to have been part of the best driver development program around.”
Molly Helmuth, a 2018 KDDP finalist, hopes that Kulwicki's nomination will continue to inspire a new generation of racers, much like it has for her. The CARS Super Late Model Tour regular from Seattle, Washington, noted, "Alan Kulwicki is the perfect individual for my generation to emulate as he presented true dedication and a never-give-up attitude. Through his motto, ‘Work to become, not to acquire,’ he has undoubtedly earned his spot into the NASCAR Hall of Fame."
The excitement of Kulwicki’s inclusion into the 2019 Hall of Fame Class continued with the successful performances turned in by members of this year’s KDDP group of drivers. In addition to Mondeik’s big win in Wausau, Wisconsin, last Thursday night, 2018 KDDP driver Cole Butcher claimed the victory in the Cummins 150 Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour battle at Scotia Speedworld in Nova Scotia on Saturday, while Brett Yackey came home the winner in Late Model Division competition at Colorado National Speedway, just north of Denver, on Saturday night.
The induction ceremony for the 2019 NASCR Hall of Fame class will take place on February 1, 2019, and Roberts hopes that between now and then, more and more NASCAR fans will learn about Kulwicki's phenomenal story.
"This year has been just so remarkable thus far,” said Roberts. “Our drivers are competing for victories week in and week out and are doing such an incredible job in sharing Alan's story. News like this can only help our program grow to even greater heights and provide more exposure for our young drivers. Alan might have enjoyed this moment for a little while, but he would get right back to work on the race car. We're certainly not finished growing as an organization and our drivers are certainly not done winning and making a huge difference off the track.
“We are all looking forward to the induction ceremony in Charlotte next year,” Roberts added. “Our plans are to make the occasion a huge reunion for the 1992 championship team, as well as for so many of his friends, associates and former team members through all the years. It promises to be a fun and memorable event, that’s for sure.”