Lucas Oil Speedway Preseason Spotlight: Late Model veteran Walkenhorst ready for 25th year in sport

Joe Walkenhorst had a solid 2023 season in the Hermitage Lumber Late Model division at Lucas Oil Speedway, finishing fourth in points with nine top-five finishes. (GS Stanek Racing Photography)

Joe Walkenhorst will mark a quarter-century driving a race car in 2024 when the Hermitage Lumber POWRi Late Model season fires up at Lucas Oil Speedway. All but one of those years spent driving a Late Model. The feeling of wheeling the high-powered car around the dirt is an experience like no other, the 56-year-old resident of nearby Elkton said.

“Late Models, just the feel of them, when they’re really hooked up they feel like they’re gonna throw you out the right side of the seat,” Walkenhorst said of the appeal. “They are just so quick and fun.”

Walkenhorst will be looking to build off a strong 2023 season when action in the Big Adventure RV Weekly Racing Series begins next month. He finished fourth in points a year ago with nine top-five finishes in 17 events, though most of his best runs came in the first half of the season.

“Then I don’t know what happened, but something went away on the car,” Walkenhorst said. “I don’t know if it was a shock or the rear-end. We ended up rebuilding the front end, the rear end, the middle, went through all the shocks. Finally, the last race of the year, we got it to come back.

“All in all it was decent. Not what we were shooting for, but we got some pretty stiff competition there, too.”

Walkenhorst, a native of Lee’s Summit, began racing in 1999 driving a Super Stock at Central Missouri Speedway in Warrensburg. He grew up going to the races to watch his dad, Ed Walkenhorst, drive a Late Model at I-70 Speedway in Odesssa.

“I had to wait until I could afford to race,” Walkenhorst said. “That’s the biggest obstacle we had to overcome to go racing. But I started racing at Warrensburg in the Super Stock, which was basically a Late Model with a Stock stub, back in the day, and we had success from the git-go. We won four or five races the first year and the next year went to Super Late Models. That was quite a learning curve.”

Walkenhorst has raced nearly ever year since, though not always with a full schedule due to other commitments. He moved to Elkton, six miles south of Wheatland, a few years ago after his parents retired and bought a place there.

“My dad decided that living in the city wasn’t where he needed to be,” Joe Walkenhorst said. “He found a farm in Elkton, just six miles south of the track. I bought three aces right next to them and built a house. I’m an only child and decided I needed to be close to them when they got to the age where they needed help.”

The only downside is a 230-mile round trip drive each workday to his job in Kansas City. That’s why Walkenhorst said it’s important to have good help in preparing his car, during the week and on race nights.

Tony Allen, a former crewman for national-touring drivers Jason Papich and Earl Pearson Jr., has helped him the last couple of years. Garrett Eth has come on board to help daily maintenance and prep tires. Daughter Mariah Walkenhorst has been another mainstay in helping with crew duties.

“Tony Allen has been with me last couple of years,” Walkenhorst said. “He got tired of going on the road. We’ve been friends for a while and I told him, ‘if you want come wrench for me on Saturday nights I’ll buy you a pit pass and a hot dog and you can still get your racing fix and don’t have to travel.’ He’s been great helping me set up the car and make the right adjustments.

“Garrett Eth is a young kid wanting to learn and I’m getting him started on tires. It’s a huge help for me. During the week I’m pretty much by myself and I’m on the road four hours a day. It helps to have a young buck to help out.”

Walkenhorst said his goals for this season are simple as he plans to race at Lucas Oil Speedway weekly. With the class under POWRi sanction, he also plans to hit some races at the track where he started, in Warrensburg.

“I definitely want to get a win, if not multiple wins, and beat Justin,” Walkenhorst said of Justin Wells, who dominated at the track last season. Joe drives a Black Diamond chassis that he bought from Wells a few years ago.

“We’re good friends and I take my whoppings accordingly,” Walkenhorst said of Wells. “He’s real good people.”

The Big Adventure Weekly Racing Series Weekly Opener is set for April 20th with all four divisions in action. The season-opening 3rd annual Easter Bowl Enduro 150 is set for April 6. Hermitage Lumber POWRi Late Models plus POWRi Midwest Mods and POWRi Pure Stocks will be in action that night.

Driver information needed: Drivers planning on racing at at Lucas Oil Speedway this season are encouraged by keep their MyRacePass profile up to date. Meanwhile, track announcer Shane Friebe is asking for them to also fill out a driver information form online. There will be a number of nights on both Flo Racing and MAV-TV broadcasts and the more information about each driver, the better.

Legends added to April 12th portion of MLRA Spring Nationals: The 11th annual MLRA Spring Nationals are set for April 12-13. Legend cars have been added to the program on the first night to join the MLRA, Show-Me Vintage Racers and POWRi Super Stocks. Classes for night two will be MLRA, SMVR and POWRi Super Stocks.

Test and Tunes: The second and final Open Test and Tune is set for 2-6 p.m. March 30 at Lucas Oil Speedway. Pits open at 1 p.m. and pit passes are $30. Grandstand admission is free.

For ticket information about any event on the 2024 Lucas Oil Speedway schedule, fans can contact Admissions Director Nichole McMillan at (417) 295-6043 or via email at [email protected] for more information about any event on the 2024 Lucas Oil Speedway scheduled.