Max Cookson Broadens Lead in Battle for 2023 Kulwicki Cup
Heading into the final six weeks of competition in the battle for the 2023 Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) Kulwicki Cup Championship, Max Cookson continues to lead the point standings.
Heading into the final six weeks of competition in the battle for the 2023 Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) Kulwicki Cup Championship, Max Cookson, a 20-year-old rising racing star from Palmyra, Maine, continues to lead the point standings. Cookson, who claimed the 2023 Oxford Plains Speedway Super Late Model track championship last month, broadened his lead since the first standings report in late July.
Through the most recent judging period which ended on September 30, Cookson leads 19-year-old Spokane, Washington, driver Haeden Plybon by 330 points (1,112 points for Cookson to Plybon’s 782). The competition for top finishing spots has heated up considerably over the last two months, with Franklin, Tennessee’s Jackson Boone climbing to third in the standings with 645 points. He’s followed closely by Riley Stenjem (Utica, Wisconsin) with 639 points. Jacob Borst (Elon, North Carolina) is fifth with 599 points, followed by Evan Shotko (Coopersville, Michigan) with 574 and Levon Van Der Geest (Merrill, Wisconsin) with 328.
“While Max was able to extend his lead in in the standings, it truly is a situation of it never being over till it’s over,” said KDDP Executive Director Tom Roberts. “With our unique points system, the battle for the Kulwicki Cup Championship remains intense down to the wire because our final balloting carries so much significance. The first two voting results are averaged, with the final vote added. It’s certainly a case for emphasizing the importance for all the drivers to keep the competitive fire burning till the very end.
“Max continued to have an amazing season during our second judging period that went through September 30,” said Roberts. “He added two more wins to his total for the year and wrapped up the Oxford Plains Speedway Super Late Model track championship. Max maintained a high level of community service activities and reinforced them well with his social media support. He garnered tremendous exposure and earned immeasurable respect within the racing industry when short-track legend Bubba Pollard drove Max’s backup car in the Oxford 250 on August 27.
“Haeden currently has a 137-point advantage over Jackson in third, but only 71 points separate third from sixth,” Roberts said. “Our 2023 team of drivers is composed of the most competitive young racers out there. They all will stay after it, focusing on finishing as high up in the standings as possible.
“While Alan’s 2023 squad has been one of the most competitive groups ever for our program, they have also exhibited such a great level of camaraderie. The Zoom meetings we’ve had with our board members and all the drivers have not only been useful as for our voting process, they’ve also worked to help solidify a special bond between the drivers. They are all looking forward to spending time with each other at our Charlotte awards banquet in December.”
After the recent evaluation of the drivers, here’s how the point standings look heading into the final six weeks of the 2023 competition (through September 30, 2023):
1st - Max Cookson - 1,112
2nd - Haeden Plybon - 782
3rd - Jackson Boone - 645
4th - Riley Stenjem - 639
5th - Jacob Borst - 599
6th - Evan Shotko - 574
7th - Levon Van Der Geest - 328
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“Over the 10 weeks since our last points update, five of our seven drivers have added wins with our team accounting for nine additional victories,” said Roberts. “The group competed in 53 additional races and the stats for our 2023 team boasts a total of 26 wins, 83 top-five finishes and 90 top-10s.”
As of this period’s cutoff date (September 30), the number of races that each driver competed in varied from only 11 events up to 27. The current 2023 KDDP competition (on-track) points look like this (points/wins/top-5s/top-10s/number of races & breakdown):
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2023 KDDP On-Track Competition Points
Total Points, Wins, Top-5s, Top-10s & Breakdown
1 win, 18 top 5s, 19 top 10s; 21 total races
5 wins, 16 top 5s, 23 top 10s; 27 total races
2 wins, 15 top 5s, 17 top 10s; 25 total races
1 win, 16 top 5s, 19 top 10s; 21 total races
5 wins, 10 top 15s, 12 top 10s; 14 total races
6 wins, 8 top 5s, 8 top 10s; 11 total races
Levon Van Der Geest
1 win, 5 top 5s, 9 top 10s; 17 total races
Here are “competition briefs” for each driver through the September 30 cutoff point:
MAX COOKSON: If the racing world was ranked by passing points, Maine's Max Cookson would be #1 by a long shot, having passed nearly 250 cars in 2023. Due to the handicap that race winners face at his home track, Oxford Plains Speedway, Cookson started deep in the field on numerous occasions. He picked up the track championship at Oxford Plains in September and was leading in both the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) National and North points heading into the season finale.
HAEDEN PLYBON: Continued his winning ways in the second half of the season, scoring a victory in the prestigious Idaho 208 at Meridian Speedway in August. He picked up the Northwest Super Late Model Series championship, clinching in the last race despite a season worst 17th-place finish. Before that, he scored four wins in the series and never finished worse than sixth.
JACKSON BOONE: Has proven himself to be one to beat in both Super and Pro Late Model competition throughout the Southeast. Currently the points leader at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway with four wins, Boone also owns two wins in the Allen Turner Pro Late Model Series at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola. He found consistency late in the year, scoring seven top-three finishes in both Pros and Supers between July 1 and September 30.
RILEY STENJEM: Showed speed all season long, running an Alan Kulwicki look-alike #28 in Pro Late Model competition around the state, and his #77 Super on the ASA Midwest Tour. In Super competition, Stenjem made his presence felt, earning consecutive runner-up finishes at Hawkeye Downs and Madison and a fourth at Norway. He ran well at the Wisconsin State Championships at Jefferson, scoring a second PLM feature for the season.
JACOB BORST: Posted a remarkable 16 top-five finishes in 21 races during his 2023 season. Borst scored a win at South Boston Speedway in mid-July, and picked up three additional top-fives before the end of the season. Borst showed great speed all season long, but suffered some mechanical issues once the calendar turned to August, cutting his South Boston season short.
EVAN SHOTKO: The two-time KDDP finalist cut back on his racing schedule in 2023, but the wins still kept coming in bunches. He scored his second consecutive Motor Mountain Masters 150 at Jennerstown Speedway in August and closed out the Berlin Raceway season sweeping the final two 75-lap features of the year.
LEVON VAN DER GEEST: The UW-Milwaukee engineering student was fast all season but faced multiple mechanical issues while running near the front. Late-season highlights included a strong runner-up finish to Steve Apel in the Alan Kulwicki Memorial at Slinger Speedway and podium finishes in ASA Midwest Tour competition at Wausau and Hawkeye Downs.
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The KDDP points system is based on a combination of judging input from members of the advisory board and the drivers’ on-track performance. Voters are asked to rank the drivers from first to seventh in their job of representing the organization and points (from 70 for first to 10 for seventh) are awarded for those rankings. Each voter is given 10 discretionary “bonus” points to award the drivers for “exceptional contributions” to the program. Community engagement, program representation and social media activities account for much of those points. The remainder of the points come from actual racing statistics (based on each driver’s best 15 race finishes). Race wins award 10 points, with 2nd-5th-place finishes getting 6 points, 6th-10th 4 points, 11th-15th 2 points and 15th-plus 1 point.
During the annual competition, two regular season rounds of judging points are averaged (however, bonus points continue to accrue) and added to a final round of voters’ judging points. The overall competition points (maximum 150 points for 15 wins) are applied and the driver with the largest points total will be the Kulwicki Cup Champion.
The 2023 season marked the eighth fully-functioning year for the KDDP, which was established in 2014 by the Kulwicki estate for the purpose of helping worthy drivers toward reaching their dreams while at the same time keeping Alan’s memory and legacy alive.
The seven drivers of the 2023 KDDP class each received a one-time stipend of $7,777 to cover operational expenses. The organization also provided the drivers assistance in important aspects such as publicity, marketing, sponsorship development and industry networking during the season as they competed for the annual grand prize “Kulwicki Cup.”
When the KDDP voting board members reconvene next month, they will cast their final votes which will award one of the 2023 finalists a check for $54,439 (7 X $7,777) and the unique and prestigious Kulwicki Cup champion’s trophy that goes with it. The winner will join the illustrious list of KDDP champions which includes Ty Majeski (inaugural 2015 season), Alex Prunty (2016), Cody Haskins (2017), Brett Yackey (2018), Jeremy Doss (2019), Luke Fenhaus (2021) and Dylan Zampa (2022). There was no 2020 program due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The KDDP has a proven track record, assisting a total of 38 different promising young drivers (representing 17 states & two Canadian provinces) entering the 2023 season. The Kulwicki estate has provided $762,146 in combined stipend and championship award funding in addition to all of the immeasurable off-track support provided by the organization. Through 2022 (seven seasons), those 38 KDDP drivers have competed in a total of 1,105 races; recording 178 wins, 554 top-five finishes and 797 top-10 finishes.
“While our organization is currently financially solid, our funding is depleting and we are launching a full-scale effort to unite with a major presenting marketing partner for the future,” Roberts said. “We’re confident that with the foundation we’ve laid over the years, our program can be an extremely effective marketing tool for a corporate partner to utilize.”
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The 2023 KDDP “Kulwicki Cup Champion” is expected to be announced on Tuesday, November 21, exclusively on RacingAmerica.com. The champion and all the other competitors will be honored at the organization’s annual awards banquet, scheduled for Thursday, December 14, in The Speedway Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The celebration will occur on what would have been Alan Kulwicki’s 69th birthday and will feature a live RacingAmerica.TV broadcast.
The KDDP urges you to keep up with all of its news and activities by regularly visiting RacingAmerica.com, the organization’s official media partner.
-Kulwicki Driver Development Program Release