Reiser’s racing roots firmly planted in Wisconsin
By Nicholas Dettmann
Three years ago, Allenton’s Robbie Reiser stood in awe in front of racers he admired growing up. In November, he’ll do it all over again.
Reiser will be one of 10 inductees for the Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame. The ceremony will take place Nov. 1 at the Wisconsin Automotive Museum in Hartford.
Three years ago, Reiser accepted the award on his late father’s behalf. John Reiser, the founder of Triton Trailers in Hartford, and Reiser Enterprises in Denver, N.C., was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
John Reiser died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 67.
“A few years ago when my dad got it, I was really excited because it was the coolest thing,” Robbie Reiser said.
Reiser, who is the vice president of Roush Fenway Racing, has already told his boss, Jack Roush, he wants to go to the ceremony.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Reiser said. “I’ve already talked to Jack. I’m looking forward to it.”
Reiser will be joined at the induction ceremony by former Modified driver Bill Bohn (Bristol), former USAC and IndyCar driver Bay Darnell (Wadsworth, Ill.), three-time Modified champion Gary Dye (Mukwonago), car owner, builder, chief mechanic of Modifieds and Sprint Cars for more than 50 years Glenn Haddy (Mayville), former Eastern Wisconsin Limited Late Model champion Randy Markwardt (Sheboygan), nine-time IRA 410 Sprint Car champion Joe Roe (Zion, Ill.), all-time dirt Late Model record holder and 12-time Hales Corners track champion Russ Scheffler (Waukesha) and four-time Sportsman champion at Hales Corners and the all-time point leader in that division Al Tietyen (Franklin).
Woody Klug of Cascade, an Eastern Wisconsin Stock Car Association Modified champion, will be inducted posthumously.
“The coolest thing about living in Wisconsin is all the tracks we get to race on,” Reiser said. “The first time I ran a Late Model was in Kaukauna. I remember they had 75 Late Models and I qualified 15th.
“(Alan) Kulwicki had to race in a last-chance race to get into the feature.”
At the 2011 ceremony, Reiser said he felt like a kid again during the acceptance speech.
“A lot of the drivers in this room tonight were heroes of mine when I was growing up,” he said in 2011. “It made me feel 10 years old again.”
Reiser won three track championships in the Super Late Model division at Slinger Superspeedway (1990-92). He also won a Mini-Stocks championship at Slinger in 1983. In a three-year period during the early 1990s, Reiser won 14 track, area and regional championships.
“He’s dedicated his life to racing,” said Ken Reiser, Robbie’s uncle. “His focus was to winning.”
“As an uncle, I couldn’t be more proud,” he added.
Racing is in the Reiser blood.
It started with Robbie’s grandfather. Then it was passed down to Robbie’s father, John. Throughout Robbie Reiser’s childhood, he watched two of the best build their cars and take them out on the local dirt tracks with great success.
Reiser raced from 1958 to 1976, winning the Wisconsin Late-Model dirt-track championship in 1972.
“It was a huge family effort,” Robbie Reiser said. “It’s something I wanted to do. I wasn’t pressured to do it. They were really supportive of it. When I wanted to do it, they gave me 100 percent to help me.”
However, Reiser didn’t think anything would ever come of it, outside of fun and games with the best Wisconsin short-track racing had to offer.
“I was never a kid that talented,” Reiser said. “I just wanted it so bad. I always wanted to be a part of racing. I’ve been very fortunate.”
The original plan when John Reiser started Reiser Enterprises was for his son Robbie to be behind the wheel of a stock car in NASCAR.
The Reiser team struggled.
Robbie Reiser made his NASCAR debut in the then-Busch Series in 1993 at the Milwaukee Mile. He finished 21st. Reiser never put in a full NASCAR season during his racing career (1993-97). He made 29 Busch Series starts with only one top-10 finish, and made three NASCAR truck series starts in 1996 with the Mueller brothers, Tom and Jerry. His best finish was 19th.
The Muellers were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.
In 1997, life changed for the Reisers when they hired Matt Kenseth to race for the team. Kenseth and Robbie Reiser, who would be Kenseth’s crew chief, were rivals on the short tracks.
When Reiser asked Kenseth to race for him, Reiser admitted in 2011 it was “super weird” to award a former rival the unique opportunity of racing in NASCAR. But Reiser was happy with the decision, even if it was met with some animosity.
“He also realized what we had at stake,” Reiser recalled about his dad’s reaction.
The Reisers pinned all their hopes and dreams on Kenseth, who won the 1994 Slinger Nationals when he was 22.
“We still miss not having John around,” Kenseth said in 2011. “He’s meant a lot to me, not just on the racing side, but also the personal side.”
“When I used to race against Robbie, we weren’t really friends, we didn’t really talk,” he added.
Kenseth became a full-time then-Winston Cup driver in 2000 after he and Reiser won seven races and had 50 top-10s in their first 85 career starts in the Busch Series.
They reached the pinnacle in 2003, winning the Winston Cup championship together.
“That was special,” Ken Reiser said adding most of the people on the race team were from Wisconsin.
Robbie Reiser and Kenseth enjoyed great success for the next four years, consistently contending for NASCAR’s top championship.
In 2007, Reiser moved from the top of the pit box and into the offices of Roush Fenway Racing. They went out in style: winning their last race together at Homestead.
“When I was 18 years old and started racing cars, I never thought I would’ve gotten to the point where I am today,” Reiser said. “Who envisioned a kid from Allenton, Wisconsin to run Roush Fenway Racing?
“There’s more employees there than in my hometown.”
When Reiser does give his induction speech, he admitted it’ll be far easier this time around, rather than trying to tell a group of people – friends and idols – what it was like to be John Reiser’s son.
“My dad was my hero,” Robbie Reiser said. “To stand up in front of all those people, I wish he would’ve been able to do it himself. I just got to watch.”
“My dad never made racing a career,” he added. “My dad did it as a hobby because he loved to do it.”
Reiser said his dad had a way of being blunt. When asked what he thought his father would tell him about his latest accomplishment, Reiser said his father would look at the negatives.
But it’d be in a good way.
“He’d tell me about all the stuff I wrecked,” Reiser said with a laugh. “I was never very talented. I was just a guy that wanted to race and wanted it worse than the people around me.”
“I think he’d be proud of me,” he added. “But in my dad’s way he’d remind me of all the trouble to get there.”
For tickets and event information, call Bill Behm at 920-269-4729.
(This article first appeared in the April 2014 issue of Full Throttle Magazine)