Kulwicki began his own racing career driving karts as a teenager in 1970. During high school, he competed successfully in several national karting competitions for young racers. After graduating in 1973, he switched to late model stock cars, racing on dirt tracks and paved tracks. He also started attending college, earning a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in 1977. Racing part-time through his college years, Kulwicki worked as an engineer after his graduation. He spent his summers racing at short tracks all over Wisconsin, winning track championships at venues like Slinger Speedway and Wisconsin International Raceway in Kaukauna. His growing success behind the wheel convinced him to try driving as a full-time career.
Once Kulwicki was an established racer, he reflected on the value of his education. “Personal and professional interaction is necessary for success in just about everything you do, especially in our sport. I feel that my education has prepared me to deal with sponsors, the media, officials and the general public in a professional manner. It has definitely been essential in the success of operating my own team. It's an asset that I'm proud of. And, yes, if I had it all to do over again, I'd still go after the college degree."