HAMPTON, Ga. — “Some kids play basketball, football or baseball, but Luke loves racing. He just wants to be at the track,” said Jeff Behnke with a smile as his 15-year old son geared up for a recent race at Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Thursday Thunder.
For Luke Behnke, racing is both a passion and a family affair. The Fayetteville native was introduced to racing by accompanying his father to work and he races in memory of his uncle, who encouraged Luke to get behind the wheel. Luke’s mother never missed a race and his brother, Zach, records the time of every lap Luke makes. In fact, his father rearranged a busy schedule working in television to accompany his son to each Thursday Thunder event at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
From a young age, Luke saw racetracks as a home away from home. With his father serving as an executive producer for TNT’s NASCAR television coverage, Luke was immersed in race action anytime he joined his dad on the road. But while many racing youths hit the track before the age of ten, Luke wasn’t inspired to race until a trip to Charlotte where he first observed Legends Car racing.
While at Lowe’s Motor Speedway with TNT analyst and NASCAR veteran Wally Dallenbach Jr., Luke was intrigued by watching Dallenbach’s sons compete in the Summer Shootout series at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
“I was immediately interested when I found out about the Legends program,” said Behnke, who recently won his first race in a Promoter’s Choice feature at Thursday Thunder. “My dad and I started coming out to some Atlanta Motor Speedway races and met some people. Before too long, I was ready to get on the track.”
But before he took to the track, Luke approached his terminally-ill uncle, Edwin Mills, looking for support. With a wink, smile and encouragement from his favorite uncle, Luke had his first fan. And when his uncle lost his battle with cancer, Luke numbered his car 46 to remember his uncle, marking Edwin’s age when he passed.
“Luke really looked up to his uncle and when he decided he wanted to race, Edwin was the first person he told,” said Jeff. “His uncle smiled and said Luke should do that. He was really proud of Luke.”
In addition to the support of his family, Luke and Jeff have also relied on new friends founded in the Legends of Georgia racing community. After meeting four-year Thursday Thunder driver Billy Fulson, the Behnkes were introduced to Tom Quattlebaum and Ronnie Sanders who have both been critical to Luke’s fast start. Sanders, a bone fide short track legend who appeared in three NASCAR Winston Cup events, has been Luke’s biggest advisor for driving advice.
“Ronnie has been a big help just learning how to race on short tracks and were having a lot of fun. Without him, Billy and Tom, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” said Luke.
With the help from his family, his uncle’s memory and the Legends community, Benhke is showing progress in his first year racing. He has three top-10 finishes in five starts in the Young Guns division, but also has two podium finishes in Promoter’s Choice events, including his first-career victory on June 19.
“Getting that first win was a lot of fun,” said Luke. “It was awesome, but now I want to get my first win in [the Young Guns] class.”
And while Luke seems more than grateful for his early taste of success and help from his fellow Legends racers, he seems most appreciative of the help he receives from his family and time he gets to spend with them at the track.
“It means a lot to me that they’re real supportive about my racing,” said Luke. “The fact that my dad rearranged his schedule to help me do this is incredible. He’s really the one that coordinators everything and he’s the reason I can get out there each week. I just love being at the track and he makes it happen for me.”