20-year-old driver getting help from former NASCAR champion’s organization
Michael Ostdiek would have liked nothing better than a chance to meet Alan Kulwicki, who created the template Ostdiek is trying to follow in his racing career.
But a meeting wasn’t possible because Kulwicki died several years before Ostdiek was born. So the Lakeville 20-year-old is trying to do the next-best thing – race in Kulwicki’s tire tracks. Kulwicki, in many ways a self-made NASCAR driver, rose to the top of the sport in 1992, winning the Cup Series championship. He didn’t get a chance to defend his title because he died in a plane crash in April 1993.
For the last two seasons, Ostdiek has been part of the Alan Kulwicki Driver Development Program, created in 2014 to help young drivers reach their goals. Ostdiek is one of seven drivers in the program this year and at the end of July led the organization’s point standings. All seven drivers have received financial and marketing support from the organization, and the points leader at the end of the season receives about $54,000 to put toward continuing his racing career.
Ostdiek, a Lakeville North High School graduate and marketing/management student at Iowa State University, first got in a race car at age 5. By 2013, he was the Legends division champion at Elko Speedway, his home track. This year he is racing in two main circuits – the NASCAR Late Model Big 8 series at Elko and the ARCA Midwest Tour, a series that goes mostly to tracks in Wisconsin and Illinois. The Midwest Tour makes one stop in Minnesota at Elko Speedway on Sept. 23.
His success this year, particularly on the Midwest Tour, will help determine what role racing will play in his future, Ostdiek said. His best finish in a Midwest Tour feature race is seventh July 1 in Loves Park, Illinois.
“There are three big (Midwest Tour) races coming up, then the Oktoberfest race in Wisconsin to end the season,” he said. “We’re a small team; it’s mostly my family. It takes money to race. To get money, you need sponsors, and to get sponsors, you have to show some results.”
Kulwicki, who also came up as a Midwest-based driver, decided in 1986 to try to break through in NASCAR. Despite having a small, underfunded team, he won a race in 1988 and four years later was the Cup champion. An engineer, he was one of few NASCAR drivers at the time with a college degree.
“I thought about studying engineering before deciding on marketing,” Ostdiek said. “But yeah, he’s definitely been a role model. He started in the Midwest like I did, and basically tried to do it his way.”
Ostdiek comes from a family of drivers on both his father’s and mother’s sides. His grandfather used to own Elko Speedway and the now-defunct Raceway Park in Shakopee. His uncle, Dwain Behrens, was one Elko’s top drivers before he was killed in a snowmobile accident in 1993 (Elko now holds an annual Late Model tribute race in Behrens’ honor; this year’s race is Aug. 19). Ostdiek’s father is his crew chief. His older brother Matt, who was Elko’s driver of the year in 2011, later turned his attention to golf but still helps Michael as a spotter in big races.
Racing on the ARCA Midwest Tour this season has been a learning experience for Ostdiek and his crew. Like a golfer playing an unfamiliar course, they’ve had to learn how new tracks affect racing strategy and car setup. Sometimes it happens by trial and error. In the team’s last Midwest Series race, the Dixieland 250 on Aug. 1 in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, the car had clutch problems and Ostdiek dropped out after 138 laps, finishing 25th.
“The setup was a little off,” he said. “But that was our first time there racing Super Late Models. Some of this is pretty new to us.”
On the other hand, it did give them a chance to see a NASCAR superstar up close. Kyle Busch, the 2015 Cup Series champion, frequently races in midweek short-track events and showed up at the Dixieland 250. Busch took the checkered flag but his car failed the post-race inspection – it was below the minimum weight requirement – and he was disqualified.
“It is kind of surreal to see his car and realize he’s spending about three times as much on his car as you’re spending on yours,” Ostdiek said. “But then you have to race, and he’s another driver who wants to win just as badly as you do.”
Back at Elko on Saturday night, Ostdiek raced in the two Late Model Big 8 features on Kids’ Night. He expressed confidence beforehand – “we’re usually one of the top five cars at Elko,” he said – he was 18th in the first 30-lap race on the three-eighths-mile oval and 11th in the second race. Ostdiek currently is 14th in Elko’s Late Model standings, where Jacob Goede of Carver holds a 100-point lead over Grant Brown of Prior Lake.
Ostdiek’s next race is a return to the ARCA Midwest Tour on Saturday, Aug. 12, in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.
Saturday at Elko
Dylan Moore of Northfield won Saturday’s first Late Model feature, with Goede taking the second. Chris Marek of Lakeville was third and Ryan Kamish of Farmington fourth in the first feature, while Michael Beamish of Eagan was fourth in the second race. Kamish is third and Beamish fourth in the overall standings.
Conrad Jorgenson of Lakeville was third and first in the two Thunder Car feature races Saturday and moved to within five points of leader Jeremy Wolff in the division standings. Jorgenson has won six Thunder Car races at Elko this season.
Jackson Lewis of Lakeville finished 12th in Saturday’s Legends Division feature but is fourth in the overall standings.
Dustin Mann of Farmington retained his lead in the Power Stocks division by winning Saturday’s second feature. It was his sixth victory of the year.
Collin Stocker, an 11-year-old from Farmington, won his third Bandoleros feature in four tries Saturday and holds a nine-point lead in the overall standings.