West Salem, WI – Luke Alan Fenhaus began his sophomore year at Wausau East High School three weeks ago. While it’s “back to the books” for the energetic 15-year-old, he can’t help but think about what this weekend holds. While the vast majority of his friends at school will be at Thom Field in Wausau cheering on the Lumberjacks football team on Friday night, Fenhaus has other plans. Instead, he’ll be 135 miles away, wheeling his lightning-fast Super Late Model race car around the 5/8-mile La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway.
Fenhaus will be looking to continue turning heads in the ARCA Midwest Tour’s Oktoberfest Racing Weekend and add to the success he’s already enjoyed this season as a member of the 2019 Kulwicki Driver Development Program (KDDP) team of drivers.
What a season it has been so far for the second-generation racer, whose father, Al, won the World Championship Snowmobile Derby in 1993.
After winning the 2018 Super Late Model track championship on the quarter-mile State Park Speedway near his Wausau, Wisconsin home, the hard-charging youngster ventured out this season. He certainly has made his presence known at tracks along the ultra-competitive ARCA Midwest Tour and at prominent motorsports venues such as Slinger Speedway.
“It was our game plan to run on as many tracks as we could and continue getting the experience and seat time,” said Fenhaus, who carries himself much like a seasoned veteran. “It’s been a huge learning curve, but I’ve had so much fun out there racing at so many new tracks this year. I think I’ve been able to step it up with my competition level and really improve in my communications ability with my crew chief and team.
“As a driver, I think I’ve really gotten a lot better at being patient and keeping my emotions under control,” added Fenhaus, who started racing “kitty cat” snowmobiles when he was four and go-karts when he was seven. “Comparing this season to 2018, I think I’m a lot better when it comes to passing cars. I have a better handle on when it’s time to be as aggressive as I can. There truly is nothing that can take the place of experience.”
When asked about what he feels has been the highlight of his season so far, Fenhaus is quick to point to the August 6 Dixieland 250 ARCA Midwest Tour battle at Wisconsin International Raceway in Kaukauna.
“Although the result might not show it, I’m so proud of our performance in that race,” said Fenhaus. “We qualified 12th, started 11th and patiently stayed there just inside the top 10 for the first 50 laps. We were solidly in the top five after 60 laps and ran third for 50 laps. We battled with Ty (Majeski, race winner) and Dan (Fredrickson, who finished third) up front during the second half of the race and that was so much fun. We didn’t get the finish we wanted (finished 12th), but I think that race proved that we could race with the best drivers out there.”
Then, there’s what Fenhaus did at Slinger.
He had raced a Bandolero car there when he was 10 years old and sat in the stands as a fan for the 2017 and 2018 editions of the Slinger Nationals. When Fenhaus showed up on June 23 and qualified second for the Carl Wegner Memorial 75, he caught everyone’s attention. He ran up front until mechanical issues took him out of the race.
He turned all heads when he returned for the 40th Annual Slinger Nationals on July 10. In only his second SLM race on the demanding track, Fenhaus qualified second, ran up front all race long and finished eighth.
“I studied how Ty (Majeski) attacked the track as a fan in the stands and tried to duplicate that,” Fenhaus said. “That place is wild and I had so much fun racing there this season. It’s different from anything I’ve ever raced on. It will always be a special memory getting to race with Ty, Matt (Kenseth), Steve (Apel), Alex (Prunty) and all those guys who have that place figured out. We went back there a few weeks back (for the September 1 Labor Day 100), set fast time and finished third. So, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made there.”
“Luke was certainly able to surprise a lot of people at Slinger Speedway this summer and he certainly impressed me,” said Alex Prunty, 2018 Slinger Speedway SLM Champion and 2016 Kulwicki Cup titlist. “When new guys show up at Slinger, typically they struggle. Even Bubba Pollard, one of the best short-track drivers ever, struggled his first time at Slinger. It's a tough place to race, as there are a lot of secrets the locals know. Luke was able to show up and instantly be a quick-time threat. He picked up fast and showed great ability. I would not be surprised if he found himself in Victory Lane at Slinger soon.”
Back at State Park Speedway this season, Fenhaus won two races and finished a strong third in the points, even though he didn’t compete in all the races.
“We had to miss one race there back in June (June 14) because we were really thrashing to get our Fury (Fury Race Cars chassis) car ready for the Milwaukee Midwest Tour race on Father’s Day,” Fenhaus said. “We had to steal the transmission out of the car we race at State Park to put into the Fury car. It proved to be costly in the points and very well could have cost us our second straight championship there.”
Saying Fenhaus is not your typical 15-year-old would be a monumental understatement. In addition to his school studies and his racing, Fenhaus is also a third-generation farmer. The youngster is extremely active with his grandfather and father in running a 600-acre farm, where they maintain many acres of corn and soybeans, along with 40 head of cattle.
“I grew up playing with toy tractors & toy farming equipment,” Fenhaus offered. “I was just a toddler when my dad would ride me around on the tractor. I was only six years old when he let me drive the tractor for the first time.
“I was raised to learn everything I could about the farm equipment and all,” Fenhaus added. “I’ve been helping feed the cattle and doing chores since I was a small kid. These days during the week, it’s a common sight to see me out there on the tractor cultivating the corn and raking the hay. I think it’s a great lifestyle and I feel blessed to have been brought up that way.”
The 2018 edition of Oktoberfest Racing Weekend provided the first track time Fenhaus experienced on the La Crosse track. He said it was a major learning experience and he can’t wait for this weekend’s return to the demanding asphalt oval.
“I sat in the stands and watched as a fan two years ago, so I knew what a challenge it would be when we came back to race there for the first time last fall,” Fenhaus said. “We struggled really bad in practice. It’s such a tough track to get a handle on and we just couldn’t make our car rotate at all.
“We qualified 12th on Saturday and kept working on it. We started second in Sunday’s race and were able to run up front. We led about 20 laps, but our day ended early when we had distributor problems and had to park it.
“We learned so much there last year and can’t wait to get back this weekend. Last year’s race taught me how to pass other cars there and get through the turns. In Turns 1 and 2, you diamond it a bit, but you stay on the throttle. Tire management is always critical. The whole track is just so challenging.
“We’re coming back with three different bump stop packages that we feel will work great with our Fury chassis,” offered Fenhaus. “The Fury car has worked great for us this season. The major difference has been the grip factor we’ve been able to get with it. But the bottom line is that with any chassis, you have to know how to drive it and get it through the corners.
“I’m really proud to be heading back to Oktoberfest and representing the KDDP this year,” said Fenhaus, who won the 2018 Midwest Truck Series Rookie of the Year honors. “It’s been a pretty different scene for me being part of the program, but it’s been so much fun. I think it has helped me mature and grow as a person as I’m learning to be a better driver overall.
“Gaining respect as a racer out there has always been important to me,” Fenhaus added. “Even though the seven KDDP drivers are spread out racing all over North America, there’s a big bond that we enjoy. We’re all competing for the Kulwicki Cup, but we cheer each other on with our social media activities. I can’t wait to meet all the other drivers in person at the KDDP banquet down in Charlotte in December.”
Also representing the KDDP class of 2019 this weekend at La Crosse will be Paul Shafer Jr. and Carson Kvapil. Shafer is coming off a huge victory in the September 14 Tony Bettenhausen Classic 100 at Grundy County (Illinois) Speedway. Kvapil has been racing down south with GMS Racing lately, but returns to the Brad and Nancy Mannstedt-owned No. 35 car this weekend.
The 50th Annual Oktoberfest Racing Weekend at La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway features four days of racing excitement from Thursday, October 3 through Sunday, October 7. Super Late Model action includes the annual Dick Trickle 99 on Friday night, ARCA Midwest Tour qualifying on Saturday and the big Oktoberfest 200 Midwest Tour season finale on Sunday.
Oktoberfest Racing Weekend is a bucket list item for all short track racing enthusiasts. For those fans unable to attend, Speed51 will again provide a pay-per-view broadcast of the event. Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s racing will be available for $24.99 each day, and there will also be a three-day pass available for $64.99, saving fans $10 on the cost of the three days. To purchase your pay-per-view tickets for Oktoberfest Weekend now, click here: https://speed51.com/oktoberfest/
-Kulwicki Driver Development Program Press Release