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Levon Van Der Geest Carrying KDDP Banner Into Slinger Nationals

The Kulwicki Driver Development Program Finalist hopes to add his name alongside Alan Kulwicki and other KDDP graduates in the Slinger Nationals record books.


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While the Kulwicki Driver Development Program is open to competitors across North America, its DNA will always be connected with the short tracks of Wisconsin.

The program’s namesake, Alan Kulwicki, cut his teeth in Wisconsin, racing on many of the same tracks that host races today. More than 30 Super Late Model teams are gathered at Slinger Speedway for the 44th Annual Slinger Nationals on Tuesday, July 11, an event Kulwicki claimed in 1981.

Levon Van Der Geest carries that banner into Tuesday’s Slinger Nationals. The 2023 Kulwicki Driver Development Program finalist has a lot of confidence in his No. 23 following Monday’s practice day.

“I feel really good. It unloaded fast, and that’s something that happens very rarely,” Van Der Geest told Racing America. “I think that’s a good sign. We had all day to tweak on it instead of having to take big swings at it to get it close.”

The Nationals have also been very kind to graduates and participants in the Kulwicki Driver Development Program since the program’s inception in 2015.

The inaugural Kulwicki Cup champion, Ty Majeski, is a two-time Nationals winner. In 2021, Luke Fenhaus won the Slinger Nationals and took the Polish victory lap in front of a raucous crowd, earning the ‘golden ticket’ to compete later that week at Slinger against the stars of the Camping World SRX Series in the process.

That level of success admittedly adds some pressure for Van Der Geest entering Tuesday, but it also shows him the blueprint for potential success.

“It definitely adds a lot more pressure. I want to do well in this event,” he said. “I saw when Fenhaus was in the Driver Development Program, he won it. I saw everything that did for him, all the attention it got him and how far it ended up taking him. I really hope we can have a good run here. Following Fenhaus’ footsteps, in a way, I think that could be really big for us.”

The Kulwicki Driver Development Program connection is also an extremely helpful one for Van Der Geest.

“Especially when I was first learning Slinger last year, Fenhaus really told me a lot about how I need to run my line. I got my line from him, he taught me how to qualify here. He was showing me the ropes, so I owe a lot to him for where I am now as far as running this track.

“He’s a good guy to lean on, he’s a good driver, there’s a lot I can learn from him.”

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Especially when I was first learning Slinger last year, Fenhaus really told me a lot about how I need to run my line. I got my line from him, he taught me how to qualify here.

Levon Van Der Geest, on 2021 Slinger Nationals winner Luke Fenhaus

Last year, Van Der Geest qualified third for the Slinger Nationals in his first appearance thanks to those lessons from Fenhaus, but suffered an early exit from the race. His focus on Monday's practice day this year was long-run pace, hoping to dial in the qualifying speed during Tuesday’s practice sessions on a cooler race track.

“We worked on a lot of long-run speed, seeing what the car would do on 60, 70, 80 lap tires. We did one mock [qualifying run] at the end of the day.

“The weather’s going to be different [Tuesday], so we’re going to do more mocks to see what the car is going to do. A big part of this race is just making the show in the first place, and then surviving the first 100 laps.”

Starting up front is also critical for the Slinger Nationals. The top 16 drivers make the field through single-car qualifying runs, with the rest of the field sent to a Last Chance Qualifier to start Tuesday’s racing program.

Earning a starting spot up front to stay out of trouble is just one of the many benefits to avoiding the Last Chance Qualifier.

“Being in front helps a lot. Another thing to think about is, if you don’t make it in on time, you have to run the Last Chance race, and you already have laps on your tires going into the feature, so you’re already behind. Then, if you go a lap down, it’s so hard to come back from that. That’s why it’s such a big deal to make it on time.”

Fans unable to attend the 44th Annual Slinger Nationals can watch all of the action live on Tuesday, July 11 on Racing America. Tuesday's broadcast will begin at 4:30 p.m. CT/5:30 p.m. ET for the start of Super Late Model qualifying. For more information, click here.

Fans attending Tuesday's Slinger Nationals can find more information about the event and order tickets by clicking here. Spectator gates will open at 11:30 a.m. CT ahead of Super Late Model practice. The Uptown Motorcars Pro Late Models will also be in action alongside the Super Late Models competing in the Slinger Nationals.

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