Luke Fenhaus won’t graduate from Wausau East High School until 2022, but he’s going to have a heck of a “what I did on my summer vacation” essay to write come September.
On Tuesday he passed two-time and defending Slinger Nationals winner Ty Majeski and wrestled with Camping World Truck Series driver Derek Kraus to become the youngest winner of the Nationals.
On Saturday he’ll find himself back at Slinger Speedway alongside a handful of NASCAR Hall of Famers and a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner.
“Saturday is going to be fun,” said Fenhaus, who earned a spot in the Superstar Racing Experience, in addition to $10,000 from the purse and a significant portion of more than $12,000 in lap-leader bonus money.
He’ll have the chance to race with drivers such as Tony Stewart, Bill Elliott, Bobby Labonte and Helio Castroneves in equally prepared cars in an event broadcast live on CBS.
“It’s going to be awesome to race against them guys and talk to them guys and learn some things, but it’s for sure a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” Fenhaus said.
“I want to win it really bad, of course, but I’m going to enjoy the moment, too.”
Fenhaus, 17, led the all-teen podium with the 19-year-old Kraus finishing second and 16-year-old Jesse Love placing third in the 200-lap feature. Casey Johnson and Dennis Prunty rounded out the top five.
The night was split by a quick downpour that brought out an hourlong red flag at the 75-lap mark of the 200-lap feature. By that point, Fenhaus was running second to Majeski and got around five laps after the restart.
“We had a really good car, I thought,” said Fenhaus, who started 12th as the fastest qualifier. “I just didn’t know how good our long-run speed was. When we were in front of Ty, I kind of just paced myself off of him and kind of reserved but also tried to keep him behind me and control the race. But he’s so good, it was tough to hold off.”
Majeski, though, got clipped by a lapped car and pulled off with damage to the nose of his car that made it uncompetitive.
The strangest caution flag of the night came just past half way, when Steve Dorer’s car came to rest atop Carson Hocevar’s. Neither driver was injured.
When NASCAR Cup driver Erik Jones stopped with water spraying from his car's radiator, that set up a restart with 30 laps to go. Fenhaus had been lapping cars inside and out and suddenly his lead was gone, but the caution actually helped him by giving him the chance to cool his tires.
Lined up behind Fenhaus, Kraus gave him a nudge and tried to get away.
“It was really the only shot I had at him,” Kraus said. “I knew he was better than me. I knew he was going to get by me.”
Ten laps later, Fenhaus returned the favor and set sail.
“Once he got by me, I tried to just hit my marks and run him back down,” Fenhaus said. “He gave me one when I was battling with (RJ Braun), and I thought I'm just going to do it back. That’s short-track racing, and that’s racing for 10 grand and the Slinger Nationals.”
Fenhaus always has been fast at Slinger and won two features last year but had not won at the quarter-mile this season before Tuesday despite racing there weekly.
“He’s really been good here all year, just didn’t have a lot to show for it,” crew chief Tom Ress said. “I really stressed to him patience in a long race like this. When he needed to be aggressive he was at the end. Kraus gave him a little bit and he gave it back. It just shows how talented he is as a driver.”
Now Fenhaus will get to race against a few other talented drivers he didn’t know he’d ever meet.
42nd Annual Slinger Nationals Unofficial Results