At Saturday’s Superstar Racing Experience (July 10) at Slinger Speedway in Wisconsin, 17-year-old Luke Fenhaus stood up to Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Helio Castroneves for most of the night. Securing a place in the SRX race thanks to a super late model triumph in the Slinger Nationals, and in addition to becoming the youngest winner of that event, Fenhaus led 92 laps on Saturday and was well ahead when a warning on the last lap reset the field. Marco Andretti sneaked through Fenhaus on the last restart to win.
Nonetheless, Fenhaus captured the attention on Saturday. The driver development program member from Kulwicki raced side-by-side for the lead with Stewart circuit after circuit, eventually finishing second despite the chaos at the end of the race.
“It was a mad rush,” Fenhaus said front stretch Monday (July 12). “I mean, I don’t know how we ran side by side the whole race. I think that [were], like, almost 100 laps [that] we ran side by side. So that was pretty cool.
“[Andretti] was coming, ”he said. “I looked at him in my mirror, we did our best to hold him back, and I think we would have. […] He’s kind of a step ahead of me [on the restart] and I skated my tires a bit, but good game, I mean, it’s racing. […] I thought maybe [with] five more laps, I could have done it for sure. It was right [on] that outside line, he just kept his momentum going. And after each warning, it seemed like the inside was super tight and the outside was the way to go. I was going to choose the outside, but I just thought he would wash me off the race track and again [have] the same result. So that’s what it is, it’s a race deal. But to say the least, I had a lot of fun riding these guys. “
Fenhaus is from Wausau in Badger State, a town more than 100 miles north of Milwaukee. Slinger Speedway, meanwhile, is roughly the same distance from Wausau and less than an hour from Cream City. Fenhaus started racing on snowmobiles at the age of four before moving on to things on four wheels.
“I ran for a few years [in snowmobiles] and did well and won a few races […] and championships, ”Fenhaus said,“[…] and then I started in karting, I don’t really know at what age. I would say six, seven eight, and then […] did that well, then switched to mini bandoleros, worked great in there.
“So we finally took the step into a full-size race car in the Midwest Truck series,” he added, “and tested it at the age of 13, raced it when I was 14 and finished second in points. […] I got the rookie of the year, then I switched to a very late model at 14, raced my home track here at State Park Speedway in Wausau here and won the championship there- down my first year.
It was a change that made Fenhaus successful.
“That’s kind of when the race car team started to take over,” he said. “[…] I was just starting my racing career and doing well, and that’s when my whole family took over and wanted to help me succeed. And they’ve always been there for me, so it was cool to move up the ranks. And hopefully we can do it at the next level of NASCAR now.
All of his experience was put to the test on Tuesday night (July 13) at the Slinger Nationals, where he faced drivers like Camping World Truck Series Derek Kraus and Carson Hocevar, Cup Series winner Erik Jones of the 2020 Snowball Derby Ty Majeski and the legendary Rich Bickle.
“It was important for us,” Fenhaus said of the win. “To check this on the bucket list, […] we haven’t had the best of luck this year. So it really helped our confidence. And not only that, just to add our name to the list of riders who have one, that was what was special for us. And it was the biggest victory of my career. So that was really, really fun.
“The very recent models are difficult to manage in terms of stopper, geometry and the front part is very delicate, delicate and sensitive. You must therefore be in top form and […] you can really chase them and make them work hard and be kind of loose and still work well because they are so light and they are so hard to handle. Slinger is sort of a unique track and different from anywhere else I’ve run on. The incline is different, the grip is different, being on the throttle so fast and so hard is completely different so it’s hard to get used to this race track. It is intimidating to say the least. “
Four days later, Fenhaus faced three former Cup Series champions, a quadruple Indianapolis 500 winner, a seven-time Trans-Am champion and a host of other talented riders.
“It’s, like, the biggest event of my life,” he said. “And that’s kind of all I’ve ever dreamed of […] to run against these guys and talk to these guys. So it was a big deal for me in my racing career, that’s for sure. I have to thank Ray [Evernham] and Tony and everyone at SRX who helped me out and put me in their car, in the position that I can run in their program.
“So I’m very grateful for that, but I was really focused on the main goal, and that was to soak up the whole experience and enjoy it, talk to them and learn in some way. sort their stories… and they’re nice. for telling me their own stories, and it was just cool to be with them and talk to them and of course to run with them.
In addition to speaking with the series riders before hitting the track, Fenhaus watched the SRX opening in Stafford and then texted Doug Coby, the six-time Whelen Modified champion who pushed all comers away to win this race.
“I texted Coby, I think about two days before the race, because I was so nervous about everything that was going on,” Fenhaus said. “I didn’t know how the car was going to react, and I was super nervous. So I texted him, and he gave me a bunch of information, and it just helped calm me down and it helped me understand the car better. […] The FURY chassis, I knew it, the different tire was obviously different. And it was a little hard to get used to the power, but we got used to it pretty quickly. It was weird at first, but a great experience to say the least.
On the track there was a bit of a balance between Fenhaus and the rest of the SRX peloton: he had just won at Slinger but was new to SRX cars overall, while the other drivers knew the cars but were for mostly new to Slinger.
“These guys sort of had the upper hand over the car and I had the upper hand over Slinger,” he said. “So that definitely helped me, and these guys kind of struggled there. Andretti was fast all day, Stewart was fast all day, Hailie was fast. So these guys are so good at what they do. They get used to the race tracks and their brake points and their accelerator pedal points so quickly and so quickly. So it was a challenge. But I think the trail helped me for sure. Just sort of little ways to overtake and find that extra speed helped me. “
– Camping World SRX Series (@SRXracing) July 11, 2021
The race against drivers that he grew up watching was also memorable.
“It’s kind of what I’ve always wanted to do. […] I was looking [those guys] grow. Bill [Elliott]It’s a bit before my time, but I watched Tony grow up and it was cool to see him win races and championships. My family loved him. And it was just cool to soak in the moment and talk to him, and just recognize what he’s done to the motorsport industry. So it was cool to hang out with these guys and run with them.
Fenhaus appreciated the support in person and on social media over the weekend, calling the event a “humble experience”. His aspirations extend beyond the latest models in NASCAR, and really anything he can jump and drive into.
“I would love to get into other racing cars and test other things, I think that makes you a better racing driver for sure,” he said. “And I would love, if the opportunity arises, to race in NASCAR. This is my dream and it is my goal. And that’s what I’m pushing for, hoping to get into the Truck Series and run well and just move up through the ranks throughout NASCAR. But I would love to try different things, drive different cars, experiment and try to adapt to these other racing cars.
As for Saturday, Fenhaus observed the difference in driving styles between himself and someone like Andretti, who is experienced in open wheels. Stewart’s methodology was found to be closer to that of Fenhaus, and the two fought for the lead round after round, side by side on the high shores of the quarter-mile oval, Fenhaus at the inside and Stewart upstairs.
“In my Super Late Model, the interior is kind of a benchmark,” he said. “It can go both ways. i think for [the SRX] cars, the exterior was better. You just keep your momentum going so much more. And this is where I struggled more as I picked the bottom and went inside it, and it pinched me sometimes, but also made me super clean. So I think [on] on the outside, he just kept his momentum and used his roll speed to keep it going.
From snowmobiles to the Midwest Truck series, from the latest models to the SRX and all-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, lap for lap Slinger.
In short, the past week has been quite a whirlwind for Fenhaus, who won’t graduate from high school until next year, with her victory at the national championships and second place on her SRX debut unless ‘a week apart.
“The last week has been crazy for me, obviously,” he said. “The big win at the Slinger Nationals gave me a lot of confidence going into the next late model races. So it was very special for us and it turned heads. But also running around with Tony and these guys, it was great, super cool to be there and talk to these guys, and talking to Ray and Ray was a big help, so I appreciate everyone there- low. And I am looking forward to the next step in my journey and I cannot thank everyone who has been involved so far, and I hope we can continue to move forward throughout the next steps of my career.
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