How a ‘Tiger King’ Star is Connected to Short Track Racing

John Reinke’s life will never be the same following his prominent role in the popular Netflix documentary known as “Tiger King.”  But before, during and after his time working as the manager of the G.W. Zoo, one thing has remained constant: his love for short track racing.


Reinke, who resides in the small Texas town of Burkburnett, has a long history in motorsports that dates back 25 years.  At that time, he became involved in asphalt racing at a local race track in Wichita Falls, Texas. However, as asphalt racing faded away in the Lone Star State, Reinke found himself making the switch to dirt racing.


“About 24 or 25 years ago, I started asphalt racing here at our local track at Wichita Falls. When it closed down, there was nothing around but dirt tracks so it just kind of evolved into dirt racing,” Reinke told Speed51.  “Started out with Mini Stocks, played with the Mini Stocks in the dirt for a little while and I’ve been Modified racing for 20 years or so.”


While he has been involved in racing for 25 years, Reinke admits that he’s never had the temperament to put on a helmet himself.


“I have a temper; I’ve got no business being in a race car,” he said with a laugh.  “I have a guy out of Iowa Park that started driving my Modified for me, his name is Jay Baggett.  He’s pretty popular around here, and he’s been racing for me for over 20 years.”


Currently, Reinke owns two USRA Modifieds that race at dirt tracks such as Lawton Speedway in Oklahoma and Monarch Motor Speedway in Texas. Baggett, a veteran racer, drives the No. 57 Modified and John’s son, Peyton Reinke, has recently made the jump up from Mini Stocks to drive the No. 2x Modified.


“I have two USRA Modifieds, I own part of it. There’s three of us involved in it and I build the engines for it,” Reinke explained.  “I’ve put my son in one because Jay is getting old enough that he’s going to retire pretty soon.


“I have a Mini Stock here [at home], but I keep my Modifieds up at Bodine Transmission Shop. I go up there because he builds all the transmissions for me.”


Like for many families throughout the country, racing has served as a way for father and son to spend time together at the race track.  Reinke is proud of his son’s success in the Mini Stock division and is now anxious to see what he can do behind the wheel of a Modified.


“He started out in the Mini Stocks and he done really good in the Mini Stocks.  He’s won a couple races in the Mini Stocks, but we’ve always had a top three or top four car,” he stated.  “I moved him into the Modifieds and he hasn’t really had a chance to get into it.  We raced the Winter Nationals at Lawton Speedway last year, and then I broke my hip the second day so we didn’t get to run the second day.  I’m kind of anxious to get this year going.”


In addition to being a mechanic, Reinke also considers himself a big fan of dirt racing.  In particular, he takes advantage of any chance he can get to watch Dirt Late Models.


During a scene in the final episode of the ‘Tiger King’ documentary, Reinke can be seen wearing an Eldora Speedway t-shirt.  That scene grabbed the attention of many motorsports enthusiasts who watched the unique storyline unfold.


“Originally, I’m from Ohio.  My mom still lives up there and I have been to the track,” he said.  “I watched The Dream one time. I’d love to take my car up there to race one time.”


Since leaving his position at the zoo, Reinke has been able to focus more of his time working on race cars and being at the race track.  It’s something that he enjoys doing and something that helps keep his mind occupied.


“I’m definitely doing more of it now. We raced every weekend and I would take off on Saturdays to go to the track, but I’m definitely doing it a whole lot more now,” he said. “I just work on race cars just to keep me busy, keep me occupied so I don’t go stir crazy and think about the pain.”


Like many motorsports enthusiasts, Reinke is eager for racing to resume at short tracks throughout America.  And when racing does resume, he knows that life at the race track will be different than it was before.


“They’re already knocking on the door here at my house.”


-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51 Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51

-Photo credit: KFDX TV

How a ‘Tiger King’ Star is Connected to Short Track Racing