Nearly forty years ago, Slinger Speedway track owner Wayne Erickson and short track legend Dick Trickle got together and came up with the idea for a big money, mid-week super late model race that would pit the best from Slinger, the Central Wisconsin Racing Association, and the Midwest against one another. From that nascent idea sprang the Slinger Nationals, which for the past 37 years has provided many thrilling moments.
Last year’s battle between Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones was a thriller on the fastest quarter-mile in the world. While neither NASCAR Cup regular will be racing on Tuesday night, there will be plenty of short track stars on hand to put on a tremendous show for what will be a sold out crowd. Georgia’s Bubba Pollard, Arkansas’ Cole Rouse, and Florida’s Steve Dorer are pre-entered, with more drivers certain to throw their hat into the ring this week.
In the very first Slinger Nationals in 1980, Greenfield, Wisconsin’s Alan Kulwicki took on the best in the Midwest and finished fifth in the overall standings behind Wisconsin legends Larry Detjens, Jim Sauter, and Dick Trickle…plus future NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin. One year later, Kulwicki asserted himself as one of the top runners in the region by winning the Slinger Nationals Championship in a hotly contested race with Martin and Trickle.
Then made up of two separate twin 75-lap feature events run in June and July of 1981, Kulwicki picked up the first and last feature and at the time, they were his biggest wins to date. While Trickle asserted his dominance over the event in the coming years, Kulwicki was always in the mix. He finished second in 1982 and 1983, and third in 1984 and 1985, picking up an additional feature win in 1984. While drivers like Trickle, Rich Bickle, Butch Miller, and Kenseth have won more championships and races, Kulwicki remains one of the most successful drivers in Slinger Nationals history.
Heading into the 38th edition of the SuperSeal Slinger Nationals, the Kulwicki legacy remains strong, as both current and former Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) drivers look to make their mark in this legendary event. Both past champions of the program, Ty Majeski (2015) and Alex Prunty (2016), will be two of the drivers to beat in Tuesday’s 200-lap feature.
Whenever the black No. 91 is on the property these days, Majeski is the talk of the track. Despite his incredible success at tracks throughout the U.S., he just picked up his first feature win at the quarter-mile track back on July 2. Now a Roush Fenway Racing development driver, Majeski had the fastest car at the past two Nationals, only to fall victim to bad luck. After winning during his last visit to the high-banked oval, he is focused and primed for victory.
Last year’s KDDP champ Prunty is still third in track points this year at Slinger, even though he has gotten caught up in accidents not of his own making. The family-run team continues to show winning potential and should be in the mix on Tuesday night.
Steve Apel, runner-up to Majeski in the inaugural battle for the Kulwicki Cup and a three-time track champion, has also never won the Nationals. He has already picked up two feature wins this season and will certainly make his presence known.
The 2017 KDDP class will be represented by Gleason, Wisconsin’s Justin Mondeik and Neenah, Wisconsin’s Braison Bennett.
On July 9, Mondeik picked up a heat race victory and transferred into the feature by winning the semi. After destroying his primary car in a harrowing, high speed accident in the ARCA Midwest Tour race at Gateway Motorsports Park on June 17, Mondeik has rebuilt his car and is making strides towards making the field for the Slinger Nationals.
“Winning those two races at Slinger was a dream come true,” said the 20-year-old Mondeik, who plans to attend Michigan Tech this fall. “Being able to honor Alan Kulwicki with a Polish Victory Lap at his home track was a humbling experience. As an owner/driver, it has been a tough challenge to keep our program on track after wrecking at Gateway. We are definitely headed in the right direction and I am extremely excited for a chance to qualify for the Slinger Nationals on Tuesday.”
Bennett has had an up-and-down year, claiming several top-fives at his home tracks of Wisconsin International Raceway and Slinger, but he has also seen terrible luck come his way. “We have had a tough year, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” the determined 21-year-old racer said. “We have been fighting mechanical gremlins, and have gotten caught up in a couple wrecks not of our doing. We are hopeful that the Nationals are a turning point for our team.”
Bennett, who has campaigned a Super Late Model only sparingly this season, will have his father, Lowell, helping him at Slinger this time around. The elder Bennett is a seven-time Slinger track champion and has won the Nationals a remarkable five times.
“I have huge shoes to fill, but knowing that dad has that many wins in one of the toughest races around is awesome,” Bennett said. “He will be taking this year off from the Nationals, but will be in the pits to help me. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor.”
The young Wisconsin driver hopes to rekindle past Nationals glory. In 2012, Bennett beat 2016 KDDP Champ Prunty in a photo finish to take home the Late Model feature victory. “Running the Nationals has been one of the highlights of every race season, even since before I was old enough to go down in the pits,” Bennett offered. “This year, we have made some updates to our Super Late Model and the car is better than ever. I look forward to representing the KDDP and racing against Ty (Majeski), Steve (Apel), Alex (Prunty), and Justin (Mondeik). It will be great to carry the Kulwicki banner with all of them.”
Slinger Nationals action begins on Monday with practice set from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. Tuesday’s schedule gets under way with Super Late Model practice from 11 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. Late Model and Super Late Model practices rotate until 3 p.m. Qualifying is set for 4:00 p.m., with the fastest 12 cars locked in. The 6:45 p.m. Super Late Model qualifying race kicks off the evening’s race card. The SuperSeal Slinger Nationals 200-lap feature (with 10-minute break at Lap 99) is expected to get the green flag just after 8:00 p.m. CDT.