The word ‘surprise’ is an understatement regarding the rookie season for Wasua WI, native Luke Fenhaus in the ARCA Menards Series East. Then again, when you hear him talk about his work ethic and determination, it shouldn’t surprise anyone really. After a season-long points battle ended at Bristol, he sat down with TobyChristie.com to talk about his rookie year and how the 19-year-old got started in the sport.
Fenhaus had a different start to racing than some of the current younger drivers. “My whole background is really snowmobile racing. I mean, I started snowmobile racing at age three and four years old. I started doing that because of my dad, my cousin, and my grandpa. That was their background,” he said.
“My dad worked for Yamaha. So it kind of just fell right into place that I would go snowmobile racing.”
After transiting from the snow, Fenhaus jumped to go-kart and asphalt racing.
“I transitioned to summer and went go-kart racing, and then went bandolero racing. Once we went bandolero racing it was pretty much game on for the summer. I mean, the family got into it, and we started getting more people’s support. Then, after Bandolero racing, we got into a full-size Midwest Truck crate truck.”
At just 14, he got behind the wheel of a super late model and traveled across Wisconsin and the Midwest. Fenhaus credits his early days in racing to his family and their support.
“Now we go down to Nashville and Derby. You know, once a year. It’s been a family background team for me. For really ever.”
The Wisconsin driver also gives a lot of credit to the Kulwicki Driver Development Program. A program created by the family of the former Cup Series champion helps young, grassroots racers with scholarships to help fund their young careers. Fenhaus won the program back in 2021.
“It was really a big deal for me and my career. There’s a chance, you know, there’s a possibility that if you go out there and work hard enough and believe, and just put your mind to it, that you can kind of get it done. And so that was a big deal.”
The 2021 season also saw Fenhaus win the Slinger Track Championship, accompanied by a win in the prestigious Slinger Nationals and a second-place finish in the SRX event at Sliger Speedway.
A year later, Fenhaus would back up his big year by winning the 2022 CARS Tour Pro Late Model Championship. Then, in the off-season, would get that call to team up with Pinnacle Racing Group for the 2023 ARCA Menards Series East season. He said the phone ring was a sigh of relief.
“When I got the call and when we talked about it, it was really a big relief, and honestly, it couldn’t have come together better.”
So, 2023 brings Fenhaus to a totally new car with a first-year team.
However, he and the No. 28 team blew out any expectations right out of the gate with a second-place run at Five Flags Speedway. Luke would follow that up with a third place at Dover, a track he had never been to.
Then came the Fairgrounds at Nashville, where he took the chance given to him and the team.
“We didn’t really have the best car, the 18 really had the best car, and that’s what those races come down to. Cautions and late race restarts. Fortunately, we got lucky, and I got a really good start. I just pinned them down through one and two, got clear, and then set sail off to the win.”
— Ben Branscum (@BrBranscum43) May 14, 2023
In just their third race in the series, Fenhaus and Pinnacle took home the victory. Then, they did it again at Iowa… again at a track he’d never be on…in a combination race with the ARCA Menards Series.
On a late-race restart, Fenhaus snookered a win away from the No. 18. He credited a lot of this win to just missing out on his second Slinger Nationals Win earlier that week.
“It was almost like deja vu from Slinger Nationals. So we restarted on the inside, and I just knew I had to get a good restart and, you know, keep it tight to his door. Then at the last minute, pull off to him to separate a little air and just separation from us, and that’s what I did. I mean, we went into one and two. I felt like I was really just almost going to hold it wide open and clear them and get in front of him,” he added.
“It was just a fun night to win in Iowa, and it was definitely special for us as well.”
— SPEED (@SPEED) July 16, 2023
That was just part of a season-long battle leading to the finale at Bristol Motor Speedway for the East Series. Just 20 points separated Fenhaus and fellow rookie William Sawalich for the 2023 title. However, it seems their luck had just run out in the hills of Tennessee for the No. 28.
Fenhaus would make contact due to a stack-up at the start of the race, causing damage to the car. Then, a cut tire in turn four on lap 40 would end his title hopes. He would finish second in points, 53 back of Sawalich.
“Honestly, just to end it off like that, end it with those guys like that. You know, we had a fast enough race car to win…It was just hard to end it on that note,” Luke said.
“We went back out, and I wasn’t really even up to speed. I was the last lap, and then I went into three and four, and there was just no vibration, and once it blew it, it blew pretty hard.”
Overall, Fenhaus understands that the season was a good one to lay a foundation on.
“I mean they liked it. They were happy with, you know, our performance…Taking all things into consideration, it was a good first step for those guys, and got a lot of coverage for being a first-time team, running up front winning races, and a battle for our championship to JGR’s ARCA team.”
During our talk, one thing became clear about Luke. He really respected his team around him and understood that they have been part of his success. Everything, from his family and go-karting days to his title fight in ARCA.
“Obviously, we all want to win, and those guys work. I think honestly harder than everybody else in the garage. They want to go out there and win as well,” Luke added, talking about the Pinnacle Racing Group.
“When you get a team like that together, you know it can. It can become pretty deadly, and they will. I’m just thankful to go out there and win two races with them and put PRG in the spotlight.”
Luke has several late-model races planned for the rest of the 2023 racing season, including the All American 400 at the Fairgrounds in Nashville. He’s currently still working on plans for the 2024 season.
To wrap up, I asked Luke “What is something you want the fans to know about you?”
“I think it’s just a big part of my career is where I’ve come from. In this House in Wausau, WI, in my backyard is my shop, and my team owner is really part family of me, and really my whole team is part family,” he said.
“Short track racing in Wisconsin, it’s something I always cherish, and always look back at and always support is Wisconsin short track racing.”