Ty Majeski was born 16 months after the April 1, 1993, plane crash that killed NASCAR Cup Series champion Alan Kulwicki.
It would be years later before Majeski, who grew up in Wisconsin racing go-karts, would hear of Kulwicki’s auto racing record and begin to appreciate what he had built from scratch while learning to race in the same Midwestern environment.
Kulwicki, also a Wisconsin native, won the 1992 Cup championship, scoring a significant upset by outrunning well-financed teams with his much smaller and nimbler outfit. An accomplished driver, Kulwicki turned down offers to race for other teams because he wanted to do things “my way,” as he often said. That became a theme of his rise through the sport.
Tragically, Kulwicki and three business associates died in a private plane crash barely four months after he had celebrated winning the 1992 title. They were flying to eastern Tennessee 30 for that weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
In 2015, to honor Kulwicki’s legacy and to assist young drivers trying to follow Kulwicki’s path to racing’s top levels, his family started the Kulwicki Driver Development Program. Managed by Tom Roberts, Kulwicki’s public relations director at the time of his death, the program chooses seven (Kulwicki’s car number) short-track drivers each year and supports them with money ($7,777 to each driver), advice and contact support inside racing circles. The drivers compete in a point system, and the seasonal champion wins $54,439.
Majeski won the first KDDP championship in 2015 and remains its most successful graduate. Thirty years after Kulwicki’s death, Majeski is a full-time competitor in the Craftsman Truck Series and reached that circuit’s Championship Four last year, finishing fourth. With three top 10s this season, he is second in the standings.
Kulwicki made what he called the “Polish victory lap” a staple of his NASCAR wins. After taking the checkered flag, he took a lap in the opposite direction, waving to fans along the way. Other drivers, including Majeski, have adopted it.
Majeski won the 2020 Snowball Derby Super Late Model race in Pensacola, Florida and repeated the Kulwicki lap once more.
“The Snowball Derby is such an exciting race, and the crowd was amped up,” Majeski said. “It was cool for people in Florida to recognize ‘the Polish victory lap’ from a guy from Wisconsin.”
Kulwicki famously labeled his NASCAR Ford an “Underbird” (modified from Thunderbird) to underline his status as an underdog driver. Majeski said his career has been much the same.
“I never had the luxury of landing a huge corporate sponsor or my family being able to fund my way through the levels,” he said. “I’ve just had to put myself in position to win races and surround myself with the best people I could with the resources I had. Sometimes I was at the right place at the right time, and some opportunities opened up. Some went well; some didn’t. My career has had ups and downs, but I have to pave my way.”
In 2015, when he won the Kulwicki Cup, Majeski won 18 short track races in 56 starts. That success led to a driver development deal with Roush Fenway Racing. He scored three top 10s in 15 Xfinity Series races for Roush, then moved on to Niece Motorsports in the Truck Series before landing with ThorSport’s Truck team in 2021. In 2022, his first full season, he won twice, scored 10 top fives and finished fourth in the point standings.
Majeski, now 28 years old, said he has tried to set himself apart from other rising drivers by being involved in all aspects of the team, much as Kulwicki was.
“I think what people maybe don’t understand about Alan is that, yes, he was a great race car driver, but he was so smart from every avenue it takes to be good in motorsports,” Majeski said. “From a business perspective, from an engineering standpoint, from a driving standpoint, he was able to take all his strengths and put it all together and put the correct people around him to be successful.
“In every NASCAR opportunity I’ve had, I’ve worked at the shop in some capacity. I’ve tried to show ambition and the want to get better and to get the team to sort of corral around me.
“Alan won a championship doing that, and I don’t know how you could be any prouder of what you accomplished than that. I was always very inspired by that. I sort of set my career and my mindset around what he did.”