As the calendar turned from July to August, the Kulwicki Driver Development Program offered its update on the current standings in the chase for the 2023 Kulwicki Cup. While all seven finalists in this year’s program have scored at least one win on the race track, Max Cookson currently holds the top spot.
Cookson, a 20-year-old from Palmyra, Maine, currently leads Washington’s Haeden Plybon and Jacob Borst of North Carolina in the points standings. Cookson has competed primarily at Oxford Plains Speedway and in the Pro All Stars Series (PASS), and has three wins, 11 top 5s, and 14 top 10s in 15 races since April 15 when the KDDP season began.
As a result of those strong runs, Cookson is the points leader in the PASS North and PASS National standings, as well as Oxford Plains’ Super Late Model track championship. In most of these races, Cookson has often started well back in the field due to handicap rules towards race winners.
“The way KDDP did it this year, they had us make presentations and present to them, so we could kind of do what we wanted with slides and stuff,” said Cookson. “With the handicap, we had a slide with our starting positions and finishing positions.”
“Since the start of the year, from April 15 to July 15, we had passed 145 cars. It hurts when it comes to the wins and the top-fives, because if it were not handicapped, I know we’d have more. They’ve done a super job doing that and letting us showcase ourselves more.”
However, drivers in the Kulwicki Driver Development Program aren’t simply judged by their on-track performance. Elements such as community service and social media engagement are also part of the evaluation process, mindful of carrying on Alan Kulwicki’s legacy.
In that spirit, Cookson has been heavily involved with the Autism Society of Maine throughout the year, taking part in several events with the organization.
“I went into the start of the year with some ideas of stuff I wanted to do with the Autism Society of Maine. My brother is on the spectrum, so it's something that meant something to me. Since we started doing it, we’ve had so many places and people reach out. I think we’ve taken the race car to six or seven events already this year.
“I didn’t really know how it was going to go at the start of the year, because it was something I had never done before. I look forward to them every time we do one, it’s just awesome. Everyone loves them.“
For Cookson, it’s special to be able to use his platform as a racer for a greater good.
“You see the Cup drivers have their foundations and stuff. Even at my level and the people I have supporting me, to be able to use my platform to do good and go help kids. We’re doing a backpack fundraiser right now, and there are 30 or 40 backpacks right now. Being able to use my platform to do that is awesome and it means so much to me.”
Naturally, a competitor such as Cookson can’t spend much time looking in the metaphorical rear-view mirror and celebrating his successes to this point in 2023. His eyes have to stay focused on the road ahead, and the biggest challenge on Cookson’s radar right now is the Oxford 250 on August 25-27.
The event is always a special one for Maine racers like Cookson, and this year’s running takes on special meaning in the 50th annual edition of the crown jewel race. With his success at Oxford Plains this year, he hopes to write his name into the record books later this month.
“I feel like we’re sitting really good right now. We won the first PASS race of the year at Oxford and then finished fourth and finished second. In the 150s at Oxford, we’ve been super, super strong. In the weekly 50 lappers, it’s just so tough on a two-tire deal and starting worse than 18th every week.
“It’s always tough this time of year, going through July and early August, it’s really hot. Come 250 time, they talk about that race going into the night. That race track, when the sun goes down, is so different than in the sun. We’re a tick off in the heat of the day when the sun’s out, but when we get to 250 time, I think we’re exactly where we need to be."
The 2023 KDDP Kulwicki Cup Champion will join the distinguished group of former titlists that includes Ty Majeski (2015), Alex Prunty (2016), Cody Haskins (2017), Brett Yackey (2018), Jeremy Doss (2019), Luke Fenhaus (2021) and Dylan Zampa (2022). This year's Kulwicki Cup competition runs until November 14.
-Photo credit: Will Bellamy/Racing America