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Motor sports: Justin Luinenburg still going strong after 2015 national title

Reading-based Justin Luinenburg, the hobby stock national champion in 2015, is enjoying another successful year of racing. (Doug Wolter/The Globe)

READING -- Justin Luinenburg is three years removed from 2015, when he became the first Minnesotan ever to win the hobby stock national championship.

Today his life is pretty much back to normal, which includes touring the area speedway circuit and -- of course -- continuing to win events. Luinenburg, his wife Tracie, and their two children Blake and Annalee are devoted racing fans. Blake, in fact, is just getting started with his own serious racing career at the age of 14.

“Really, we do it as a family. That’s what we do on the weekends. We go to races,” explained Justin. “The weekend is our vacation.”

This summer, Luinenburg performs with two cars -- one for hobby stock and another for B modified. He races both at the Nobles County Speedway in Worthington. He takes the hobby stock car to Fairmont and Redwood Falls, and occasionally to specials around the area.

Heading into this weekend, Luinenburg won five out of 10 races this summer.

He is quick to praise his shop workers at DeGroot Repair just north of Worthington, which sponsors his activities along with Bloom Farms, Dan Wagner Construction, Schaap Sanitation, Graham Tire, Moberg Consignments and Widboom Motors, among others.

And he’s quick to put a word in for his pit crew: Trent DeGroot, Jeff DeGroot, Steve DeGroot, his son Blake, Ryan Moberg, Evan Eggers, Matt Feldman, Jay Clarke, Elroy Bennett, and Jim and Lonnie Johnson.

Tracie’s father is Jeff DeGroot, owner of DeGroot Repair.

“She would go six nights a week if I’d let her,” Justin says of Tracie. “She’s been around it just as long as any of us.”

Winning is hard work

Racing success depends upon many variables, said Justin.

“It’s a lot of work in the shop. Doing our research on setups. It’s just a team effort,” he explained. “It takes a real good pit crew. It takes a lot of sponsors and a lot of late nights. A lot of work in the shop to be good on the track. And it takes fans. ‘Cuz if the fans don’t show up at the races, there won’t be races.”

Luinenburg began racing seriously in 1998, with his brother’s back-up car in the Sportsman’s class.

“I was just like everybody else -- pretty green,” he said. “It took a while to get hold of everything. I didn’t win very many races the first few years.

“A lot of it is driving. How to drive the car -- what works for setup for my driving styles,” he continued. “It takes time. I don’t think I was near as aggressive as I am now. But I have a lot more experience.”

Aggressiveness -- not to be confused with recklessness -- is a racer’s fuel. Drivers must have the will, and the way, to get to the front. But he can’t be reckless. Recklessness is dangerous not only for the drivers, but for the car. “When you race three nights a week, you gotta keep the equipment in tact,” Luinenburg warns.

“If you only race one night a week, it takes a month to know what the car is doing. When we race three times a week, we know by midseason exactly what the car wants,” he adds.

Luinenburg’s entry into B modified began when Freddy Widboom asked him if he wanted to try.

“Of course. I’ll drive anything with wheels,” Justin replied.

B modifieds, obviously, differ from hobby stock. The cars are more powerful, lighter, with better suspension. The adjustment capability isn’t as high with hobby.

Emotional in Lincoln

Winning the 2015 national hobby stock championship was not planned. At least, not initially.

“We’ve always raced tracks for points. But it was never a big deal on the national scene,” Luinenburg said. “Toward the end of the season, we were only a couple of wins away. So we went to a couple of specials we wouldn’t otherwise have gone to.”

He found himself at Lincoln, Neb., to be feted at the national banquet. He gave a speech, but barely into it he began to get emotional. He broke down, just a little, before righting himself and thanking all the supporters and sponsors who helped him get to the top.

“It’s one of those deals. I’m not very good at talking in front of people. And right then and there, it all sunk in,” he remembers.

Now 36, he considers himself too young to look toward retirement.

“I always told everybody, ‘When Blake is kicking my butt, it’ll be time to hang it up,” he said.

“Hopefully soon,” interjected Blake, standing by his side inside the DeGroot Repair shop.

Said Justin: “As long as we’re having fun, we’ll keep doin’ it.”

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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