By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
For this week’s edition, which will focus on an alumnus of the Kulwicki Driver Development Program, Seth Eggert sat down with Alex Prunty, a 25-year-old Super Late Model driver that competes regularly at Slinger Speedway. Prunty drives the No. 11 Paul Reilly Company Super Late Model. He won the 2016 Kulwicki Cup as part of the KDDP.
The Kulwicki Driver Development Program honor the legacy of 2019 NASCAR Hall of Famer, Alan Kulwicki.
Seth Eggert: How did you become interested in Motorsports?
Alex Prunty: “When I was born, my Dad was in the midst of a championship run in the Slinger Stingers (Street Stocks) at Slinger Speedway. He started racing in 1990, won the Championship in ’91, I was born in ’92, and he won the Championship in ’92 as well. Once I came around, he quit racing to spend time with me, raise me. My Dad had six other siblings, four of whom raced.”
“Once he got out of racing, his siblings started getting involved. Once I started getting older, six, seven, eight years old, I was in the garage from day one. They all had racecars, so I had three uncles who were racing from as young as I can remember, to now.”
“It was just something that, you watched your entire family do it. I started going into the pits when I was 10-years-old. My Uncle David took me under his wing, teaching me everything I needed to know from engines to tires, drivelines and suspensions. By the time I was 16, I was enjoying every minute of it, and I found myself sitting in his car one day, wondering when it was going to be my turn to drive.”
SE: How did you convince your parents to let you race? Was it difficult?
AP: “We were working, my Dad and I, on a 4-Cylinder car when I was 16 for a large family sponsor. We ended up going through, repairing this whole car and ended up with a bad timing chain. When it came time to give it back to the people we were repairing it for, the bill was so high that they didn’t want to drive it. With the parts we put into it, and the bill, they said that if I wanted to drive it, that’ll be even, it would pay off the bill if they donate the car to me.
“That was how we first had the car, and we never told Mom about it. It was all painted up, ready to go, ‘Alex Prunty’ painted on the door. It was one of those where they kept telling me, wait until you’re 16. I don’t think it’s that she didn’t want me to race, she just always wanted me to experience things in life outside of racing.
“But, once she had seen how much fun I had with it, she was pretty much on board. She never said you can’t race or anything like that. Up until that point, I always wanted to be in the garage instead of with friends. I always wanted to be in the garage with my Uncles, in the shop with my Dad.
“My Dad never discouraged me from racing. But, the one thing he always made very clear was that if you wanted to be a racecar driver, you have to find a way to pay for it. That’s one thing that I think has really helped me in my career because other than when I first moved up to Late Models, he took care of the engine. Otherwise, everything was on me and that taught me to respect my equipment.”
SE: When was your first race? What was the result?
AP: “2009. If memory serves me correctly, I think I got spun out. I had no idea I had a guy to the inside of me and somebody t-boned me in the door or bumper. I came in the pits, upset that I had just crashed, and Dad comes up to me saying, ‘What did you pull off for?’ Here I am thinking, I just got hit, thinking the car was junk. One little dent in the door, and I thought it was done. That was my first race, it was over because I pulled off.”
SE: Who would you consider your mentor?
AP: “I have been very lucky to have the opportunity growing up in the Prunty family. I’ve had a lot of role models. I have my Dad who I always hang out with, he’s teaching me everything in the garage, then Uncle David, who I was on the pit crew with and really got me involved in engine research. I went to school for engine research and development. I got the engineering interested from David. I was always working on set-up techniques and engineering. Then I had Uncle Dennis.
“You can take all of your Uncles’ driving styles, with all of the driver coaching, mentoring, the stuff you learn in the shop. It’s hard to pick just one mentor because all of them taught me so much. It just comes down to my Dad because he’s always been there with me.”
SE: What inspires you to compete?
AP: “That’s a tough one. It’s always been the family thing to do and you never want to be the slowest one in the family. Typically, when I was growing up, there was always bragging rights on the line. There’s three Uncles racing, and you never wanted to be the slowest one because you were always trying to beat your two brothers.
“I just enjoy racing against Dennis. It’s just one of those things where your main objective is to go out there and beat him, not because you think you’re better than he is, but just because that’s what the family has always done. You just want to go out there to prove to everyone that you can be just as good as the rest of your family has been. David won the Slinger Nationals in 2000, Dennis in 2015. It’s just been a goal of mine to prove to everyone that I’m just as good as those guys are.”
SE: Is there a specific track or race that you want to win at?
AP: “I’m a huge short track guy. Whenever somebody thinks of where you want to win, it’s probably Bristol. That would be a really neat place to get a win.”
SE: What did it mean to you to be selected to be a part of the 2016 class of the Kulwicki Driver Development Program?
AP: “Just getting in was a huge honor for me. The way I got in, one of the board members came to me at the track and I was racing Limited Late Models at the time. I was winning a lot and at the time, I was 23-years-old when I met them. We had won a Championship, over 20 races, and one of the board members came in and told me that I could do better.”
“I was at the point of my career where I thought I would be running Limited Late Models my entire life because of how expensive Super Lates are. I was spending about half as much as what Dennis was spending on the Super Late. With Dad having me pay for it I was coming up with the funding, and that was honestly all I could do.”
“The KDDP was the first to put into my head that I could and should move up to a Super Late. It’s been an absolute blessing ever since. I am so glad that I met those guys. They motivated me to take this to the next level.”
SE: You went on to win the 2016 Kulwicki Cup. How has that impacted your career?
AP: “It’s huge. There were people that didn’t think I should have been in the program to begin with. It was frustrating for me but it motivated me to go out there and prove to everybody that I belong in this program, that I could go out there and win in my first year in Super Lates. We won two races in my first year in Super Lates, and that was the first time I had ever run with bump stop set-ups. There was so much that I learned that first season, it was just incredible.”
SE: How much did you learn both on and off the track from the KDDP?
AP: “Words can’t even describe what I learned from that. A lot of it was things that you kind of know but don’t realize that you’re capable of doing. Nobody wants to admit that sometimes that the biggest thing that’s holding you back in their lives is themselves. With me, that was the case. I was convinced that financially, I couldn’t do it. That $50,000 grand prize really helped and has gotten me to where I am today.”
“Learning things about pushing yourself farther than you ever thought you could dream of. We were racing two nights a week and up until that point, I didn’t think that I would be able to do that with the small crew that we have. With a small family team, I was always worried about crashing the night before and not having the resources to get back to Slinger to win the Championship.”
“It’s hard just to pick out one thing with TR (Tom Roberts) helping me with all of my public relations, the community service. The biggest thing I learned from the program was just to go out there and by yourself, the best person you can be.”
SE: Earlier this year, you added your name to the list of winners of the prestigious Alan Kulwicki Memorial. It was also an emotional weekend, your Mom’s first time back to the track after suffering a brain aneurysm. Can you describe the wide range of emotions from that weekend?
AP: “That is one that I’m not going to forget. I’ll remember it 50 years from now I’ll still remember winning the Alan Kulwicki Memorial. There was so much on the line. Even if Mom didn’t have the aneurysm, that was a race that you circle on the calendar, that is one that I need to win. I remember waking up that morning knowing that there was no way I could lose tonight.
“We went out, and I don’t know if we had the fastest car, but it was a refuse to lose moment. That was a night we battled 58 laps for the lead between Steve Apel, another Kulwicki grad, and myself. It was just a really cool moment for me having my Mom back at the track. Knowing everything that my family had been going through, we had been going to the hospital every single night for about two weeks to see her.
“It was one of those times where you go to victory lane and you can’t believe it. You really can’t believe that you just made that happen. It’s something that I’m never going to forget.”
SE: Winning the Kulwicki Cup, the Kulwicki Memorial, do you feel honored to be a part of the continuing legacy of Alan Kulwicki, one of five 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees?
AP: “I couldn’t have been prouder when I was watching the announcement ceremony. TR has worked so hard trying to get Alan recognized. It’s so much fun working with TR to help push Alan’s legacy. He was huge around here. It’s incredible, when I was in the KDDP how many people would show me tattoos of Mighty Mouse, hats, t-shirts, they were even coming up giving me these things.
“It’s been an absolute blessing to work with TR and the KDDP. The all are just the greatest people that I have ever met, and that has rubbed off on me a lot. I look back on the whole deal and when I think about it, I just smile. I hope a lot of kids get to understand what it’s all about and be a part of it.”
SE: What kind of advice would you give to both current and future participants of the KDDP?
AP: “It’s an opportunity that you don’t want to take for granted. You basically get one or two shots at it. It is something that I knew could change my career, and it did. If I didn’t get into the KDDP and take it seriously, I don’t know that I would have ever gotten to Super Late Model racing. It changed my life for the best. It changed my mentality at the racetrack, was a huge confidence booster, and you get to meet some of the nicest people in the world.”
SE: What is it like for you when drivers from NASCAR, whether it’s Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, or Johnny Sauter among others compete in Super Late Models?
AP: “It’s really cool. I think when those guys come to Slinger it’s a big opportunity for us to prove how talented the field is at Slinger. It’s always fun to go up against guys like Kyle Busch when you know they’re in the best equipment possible, and they’re the most talented drivers in the world. Just being able to showcase yourself against that is a lot of fun. If you go out and beat these guys, people are going to know who you are.
“That’show I always looked at it. You have an opportunity in front of you to show the world how talented you are.