Journey Continues For Robbie Reiser

Robbie Reiser during his time as Matt Kenseth's Sprint Cup crew chief. (NASCAR Photo)
Robbie Reiser during his time as Matt Kenseth's Sprint Cup crew chief. (NASCAR Photo)
Robbie Reiser during his time as Matt Kenseth’s Sprint Cup crew chief. (NASCAR Photo)

HARTFORD, Wis. – Robbie Reiser is the first to admit he wasn’t the most gifted behind the wheel of a race car, despite the records proving otherwise.

However, he had something not many had: two icons as role models. Those icons were his grandfather and his father. Both were legends on the short tracks of Wisconsin for most of the 20th century.

“I was never very talented,” Robbie Reiser said. “I was just a guy that wanted to race and wanted it worse than the people around me.”

That burning desire ultimately landed Reiser on top of the NASCAR world in 2003 when he helped lead fellow Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth to the then-Winston Cup Series championship as Kenseth’s crew chief. Four years later, Reiser became one of the leaders at Roush Fenway Racing.

“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.”

Reiser will be inducted into the Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame on Nov. 1. The Hall of Fame is located inside the Wisconsin Automotive Museum in Hartford, Wis.

Reiser will go into the Hall of Fame with former modified driver Bill Bohn (Bristol, Wis.), former USAC and IndyCar driver Bay Darnell (Wadsworth, Ill.), three-time modified champion Gary Dye (Mukwonago, Wis.), car owner, builder, chief mechanic of modifieds and sprint cars for more than 50 years Glenn Haddy (Mayville, Wis.), former Eastern Wisconsin limited late model champion Randy Markwardt (Sheboygan, Wis.), nine-time IRA 410 sprint car champion Joe Roe (Zion, Ill.), all-time dirt late model record holder and 12-time Hales Corners (Wis.) track champion Russ Scheffler (Waukesha, Wis.) and four-time sportsman champion at Hales Corners and the all-time point leader in that division Al Tietyen (Franklin, Wis.).

Woody Klug of Cascade, Wis., an Eastern Wisconsin Stock Car Ass’n 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.”

Reiser will also go into the Hall of Fame and be right next to his father, John, who was inducted in 2011. John Reiser died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 67. Robbie Reiser gave the acceptance speech at the ceremony.

“A few years ago when my dad got it, I was really excited because it was the coolest thing,” Robbie Reiser said.

“My dad was my hero,” he added. “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.”

Robbie 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.

“As an uncle, I couldn’t be more proud,” said Ken Reiser, Robbie’s uncle.

John Reiser founded Triton Trailers, a trailer manufacturing company in the 1990s. Later, he founded Reiser Enterprises in Denver, N.C. The goal at that time for Reiser was to get his son behind the wheel of a car in NASCAR. It was a struggle.

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 Kenseth to race for the team. Kenseth and Robbie Reiser 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.

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Nicholas Dettmann
Nicholas Dettmann is a journalist based in West Bend, Wis. He's won more than 30 writing awards and has covered auto racing at all levels — and surfaces — for nearly a decade. Follow him on Twitter at @dettmann_wbdn.