Jess Riedner (JR Photography) Photo
PORTAGE, Wis. (March 17, 2020) – When it comes to cutting his teeth this season, Stoughton’s Riley Stenjem has one mantra – discipline. It’s a word the soon-to-be TUNDRA Super Late Model Series rookie uttered repeatedly when describing how he’s been successful and how he plans to be successful when he joins the series in 2020.
“There are a lot of tracks that are low grip on this schedule and a lot of different tracks,” Stenjem said. “That will be a totally different animal. We’re going to need a lot of discipline at these places all year seeing as how different they are.”
Stenjem and his team decided to make the jump to TUNDRA this season after two strong years in weekly Late Model racing at Jefferson Speedway – the fourth stop of this year’s TUNDRA campaign. He said he learned a lot battling with a stout field on the way to a Fifth Place finish in his rookie season and a Second Place point finish in 2019.
“It was really kind of a coming out for our team,” the Milwaukee School of Engineering student said of last season. Although they hadn’t planned to chase points, strong runs kept them in the hunt. “We got into the points battle in the middle of the season and thought we had chance at the Championship, so we kept running. In August we had some mishaps and difficulty getting through the field.”
Although he and his team fell shy of the title, last season proved two things for Stenjem. It was an incredible learning experience and a major momentum boost to rev up his team for their first season in Super Late Model racing.
“If you want to learn discipline, I’d suggest going to Jefferson,” Stenjem said. “You’re racing side-by-side with a guy for a win on the last lap, and it’s crazy to think to yourself how disciplined you have to be to get off the corners and put yourself in position going to the checkered.”
Jefferson has proven to be a breeding ground for strong race drivers. Three-time and defending TUNDRA Champion Casey Johnson began his Late Model career at the quarter-mile. He has since gone on to become one of the most recognizable names in Super Late Model racing across the country. Growing up in the stands, Stenjem was sure to pay close attention. He also may have been staring into a crystal ball.
“Growing up at Jefferson I saw Casey as the guy to beat there for the last 10 years. He knows the place inside and out,” Stenjem commented. “My car owner is Bruce Lee, who used to own Casey Johnson’s Super Late Models when he got into Super Late Model racing. The car we’re going to be running is actually Casey’s first Super Late.”
If that’s not enough, Stenjem has been receiving advice from Ty Majeski, who he said is helping him learn the ins and outs of Super Late Model racing. Stenjem is hoping Majeski also forged a path he can follow. Majeski was the first Kulwicki Driver Development Program Champion. As of this writing, Stenjem is in the hunt to become a finalist for the program.
“Making the top seven of the Kulwicki program would be huge for myself and my team. It’s really the only way to get recognized at the national level while racing at the regional level,” Stenjem said. “Not only that, you can use that recognition to represent Alan, as well, and tell his story to people who may not have heard it. It’s just a really cool program that allows grassroot racers, family teams like myself, to get their names out there at the national level in ways they may not have been able to before the program started.”
Should he be accepted, he’ll be one (perhaps of several drivers) to carry on the KDDP legacy in TUNDRA. He hopes that will be a boost of momentum for his team, which will be treading into brand new territory this year. Although he knows Super Late Model racing brings many different variables, Stenjem said that TUNDRA is a great avenue to dip his toes in.
“We’re new to the Super Late Model thing. It’s new to our team and it’s new to me,” he said. “We decided, with the diverse schedule TUNDRA has, it’s the affordable way to run Super Late Models in the Midwest, and maybe across the country. We can get great experience at all of the different tracks and there is a great core group of drivers who race the series every year.”
What’s more, he’ll get to welcome those drivers to his home turf on July 21.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Stenjem said of TUNDRA’s stop at Jefferson. “It will kind of be the midway point of our Super Late Model season. Hopefully we’ll have learned some things by then and can have a really good run there.”
Ultimately, Stenjem believes some success is on the horizon. He knows, however, that it will take hard work and discipline to achieve his and his team’s goals in 2020.
“Our goal is to win Rookie of the Year,” he said. “Maybe if we can get our program rolling we’ll click off a Top Five or two, or maybe even a podium – that would be a win for us. Running Top Ten at every race would be another great goal for us to achieve starting our Super Late Model career.”
Stenjem and his fellow Travelers of the TUNDRA Super Late Model Series begin the 2020 season on Saturday, May 16 at Wisconsin International Raceway in Kaukauna, Wis. TUNDRA will be joined by the Midwest Dash Series and Wisconsin Sport Trucks. Qualifying is scheduled for 12:15 with racing beginning at 2 pm.
Wisconsin International Raceway is located just beyond the intersection of highways 55 and KK outside of Kaukauna, Wis. For more information visit http://www.wirmotorsports.com.