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Auto racing: Auburn's Brandon Varney a finalist for national award

Mar. 19—Brandon Varney was announced as a finalist for the Kulwicki Driver Development Program's Kulwicki Cup on Tuesday.

The Auburn native is one of seven finalists who were whittled down from a list of 15 semifinalists chosen for the program, which, according to its website "was formed in 2014 by the family of late NASCAR Champion Alan Kulwicki for the purpose of helping worthy drivers toward reaching their dreams while at the same time keeping Alan's memory and legacy alive."

Kulwicki was the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion who died in a plane crash on his way to a race in 1993.

As a finalist, Varney will receive a one-time stipend of $7,777 — a nod to Kulwicki's No. 7 car — to cover operational expenses.

"Having the Varney name associated with the Kulwicki name is something I've never dreamed of, truly an amazing opportunity," Varney told the Sun Journal on Tuesday. "The generosity of Kulwicki Driver Development Program will allow us to do more racing than we had planned this year. We are very excited for what 2024 holds."

According to the news release announcing the finalists, "The organization will work to provide the drivers assistance in important aspects such as publicity, marketing, sponsorship development and industry networking during the season as they compete for the grand-prize 'Kulwicki Cup.' That award winner will pick up an additional check worth seven times the initial prize ($7,777 x 7 = $54,439) and a special unique trophy."

Varney is a multiple-time champion in Oxford Plains Speedway's support divisions and captured the Pro All Stars Series Mods series title last year. He is slated to run the full season in Oxford Plains' Super Late Model division this year after getting a taste of that level of competition last season — including winning the feature in his second time racing an SLM.

"Of course, being considered as a finalist for KDDP adds motivation," Varney said of his mindset for the 2024 race season. "All seven of us are held to a higher standard, and are expected to race the right way, and that's exactly what we plan to do."

The other finalists are Michigan's Chase Burda, Minnesota's Ty Fredrickson, Massachusetts' Derek Gluchacki, Washington's Evan Goetz, Illinois' Max Kahler and Wisconsin's Levon Van Der Geest.

"I was absolutely surprised and honored to be considered one of 15 other drivers around the country. To be able to make it to the top seven and meet everyone with KDDP to tell my story was simply remarkable," Varney said. "On top of the fact, I am now the oldest ever to make it into the finals of KDDP, which is neat."

There is about a 10-year difference between Varney and the youngest Kulwicki finalist.

"It's a very interesting and intriguing lineup of drivers, especially when you consider their experience, the divisions they'll compete in and where they will race this season," KDDP Executive Director Tom Roberts said in the media release. "It's the largest variance in age for a class of drivers and it's the first time in program history that the seven drivers hail from seven different states."

The 26-year-old Varney is looking to become the second straight driver from Maine to win the award, after two-time defending Oxford Plains SLM champ Max Cookson of Palmyra won last year.

Varney joins a growing list of Maine drivers to be named a Kulwicki Cup finalist, a list that includes: Wyatt Alexander, Dave Farrington Jr., John Peters and Kate Re. Two-time Oxford 250 winner Cole Butcher and former PASS SLM champion Derek Griffith also have been finalists in the program.

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