Photo By Derrick Mahone
Luke Behnke was unable to race Thursday due to an issue with his car’s motor, but said he’ll drive next week even if he has to use another car.
Luke Behnke didn’t get to drive his car on the Thursday Thunder quarter-mile track at Atlanta Motor Speedway this week.
But he did get a chance to put into practice one of the lessons his father, Jeff, has drilled into his head over the years —respect for the unexpected.
The younger Behnke, who gave up a summer of racing to do an internship at a television broadcasting company, wanted to get at least a couple of shots at the Thunder Ring before the summer racing series comes to an end next week.
He took his car out for a practice run Wednesday, and on the third lap his engine collapsed. First time anything like that had happened to him.
“It was kind of a bummer,” said Behnke, a public relations and sports marketing major at Kennesaw State. “I was smiling when we put the car on the track [Wednesday] night for practice. I was really looking forward to getting out there at least once this season.”
Nothing to sulk about, though,he said. In fact he seemed to take the slight setback in stride.
“It’s just a one-time thing,” he said. “One way or another, I’ll be out here in a car next week.”
Chalk up Behnke’s cool attitude to adversity to what Jeff Behnke said is his son’s overall respect for the sport of racing.
“Whenever you come out here, I’ve always told him to expect the unexpected,” Jeff Behnke said.
“That deal with his motor was a complete anomaly. Doug Stevens and his crew are great and do a great job of setting up cars. But Luke and I always talk about handling every situation in this sport the same way. Whether you win, or your motor falls out or you lose or wreck, you handle it like a gentleman. I think in five years of racing he’s done a great job at that.”
When 19-year old Luke began racing, he — like most kids that have graced the AMS’s Thunder Ring over the last 15 years — allowed visions of eventual NASCAR success to dance in his head.
But when it became evident that his racing career would not follow in the mold of former Thursday Thunder drivers like Joey Lagano, David Ragan and Reed Sorenson —all current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, Luke Behnke didn’t hang his head.
Instead, he changed his focus.
“When I realized making it just as a driver probably wouldn’t work out, I just decided that I could use racing as a gateway into a career in public relations,” he said. “I figure that my experience as a driver can help give me a driver’s perspective as I pursue other things in the sport.”
He may not be headed to the NASCAR circuit, but Behnke has proven to be a formidable competitior over the years at AMS. He captured the Bandoleros racing title in 2010 and followed it up by winning a Legends crown in the Semi-Pro division last season.
Still, such successes don’t always translate into lifelong stardom. That’s why Jeff Behnke felt that part of his duty as the father of an aspiring racer was to help his son understand that truth early and often.
“In other sports he would play growing up, after the game they’d give him a juice packet and a Twinkle,” Jeff Behnke said. “In racing, I told him he’s not always going to get the juice packet and a Twinkie.”
Perhaps part of the reason why Luke Behnke, along with his brothers Zach, 18, who will be a freshman at the University of Tennessee this fall, and Alex, 15, have grabbed hold of their father’s lessons about adversity is because they’ve watched their father practice what he preaches.
After 32 years in the sports television business, Jeff Behnke said he found out a month ago that his contract at a sports television company would not be renewed. Jeff Behnke said he doesn’t mind pointing to such setbacks as a way to reinforce his message of handling challenges the right way to his sons.
“It just lets them see that adversity is a part of life,” Jeff Behnke said.
Luke Behnke said that upon graduation from Kennesaw State, he wants to make his mark in the public relations realm of the sport. His dream job is to represent one of his close friends — Pro division driver Mason Massey as one — or anyone for that matter who is making it as a NASCAR driver.
And Jeff Behnke is perhaps tops on the list of people who believe Luke has what it takes to succeed.
“That’s his goal,” Jeff Behnke said. “With these kids, it’s not often a kid becomes a big superstar. But with Luke, he’s taken his experience and learned other parts of racing. You start from the bottom but as he works hard good things will come.”