The Alan Kulwicki Memorial Scholarship, one of the highest honors within UNC Charlotte’s Motorsports Engineering program, celebrates Kulwicki’s dedication to engineering and science education, and his ability to inspire others.
The four-year scholarship, established by the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, was funded by the sale of a special-edition NASCAR Winston Cup Champion's poster, commemorating Kulwicki's 1992 championship season, along with additional contributions. Since 1994, the renewable scholarship has been awarded yearly to an outstanding high school graduate who has an affiliation with NASCAR and exemplifies Kulwicki’s experience and commitment.
Ryan Zeck ’99 was the first recipient of the Kulwicki Scholarship, which was presented in May 1994 during the opening ceremonies of the Winston Select All Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Originally from Eureka, California, he chose UNC Charlotte for the mechanical engineering program and proximity to NASCAR race teams. Zeck’s love for racing originated with his father, a former race driver. “Racing kept me on the straight and narrow,” he said. “It was a hobby that took off.”
At UNC Charlotte, Zeck led the effort to petition the Lee College of Engineering to add a motorsports curriculum to the college’s offerings. His efforts were rewarded in May 1999 when he became the first graduate of the Motorsports Engineering program.
“At the time the University had no formal connection to NASCAR,” said Zeck. “A motorsports curriculum was instrumental to my career needs and those of my classmates. Marrying mechanical engineering and motorsports made sense.”
After graduating, Zeck drove the UNC Charlotte ARCA car in the October 6, 1999 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway alongside well-known driver Kevin Harvick. In addition, he worked for Robert Yates Racing and Ginn Racing as a design engineer and was a driver for Ryan Zeck Autosports, competing at a national level.
“What stands out about my time at UNC Charlotte is learning to solve problems--and having the confidence do so,” said Zeck. “UNC Charlotte truly gave me the tools to tackle any problem.”
Currently, Zeck is a senior solutions consultant for TriMech, a company that provides engineering teams with a range of 3D design and rapid prototyping solutions. He keeps close ties to the Motorsports Engineering program and currently serves on the Alan Kulwicki Memorial Scholarship committee, which led him to help select and mentor, Nicholas Dove, the 2018 recipient.
“The Kulwicki Memorial Scholarship means a great deal to me because of Mr. Kulwicki’s legacy and his love for racing,” said Dove. “It's awesome to see the lasting impact he’s had on students whose dreams are similar to his.”
Dove, a freshman from Elizabethtown, North Carolina, chose UNC Charlotte because of the region, the University and nearby industry. “UNC Charlotte is near the heart of NASCAR, which provides great opportunity to network with people within motorsports,” said Dove. “Many engineers employed by race teams are UNC Charlotte graduates and I feel that I can be among them.”
As a volunteer with Blackwell Motorsports, a race team based in Fayetteville, Dove changes tires and completes tasks at the race track. “I enjoy learning the basics of motorsports from an experienced team,” he said. “They've helped me gain hands-on skills that can be obtained only by doing them myself.”
With just a little over a semester under his belt at UNC Charlotte, Dove has already learned some great life lessons, including what it takes to be an engineer and take advantage of opportunities to enhance his knowledge. “Overall, I’ve learned that self-discipline and grit are key factors to success,” he said.