By Mr. James Brabenec (IMCOM)July 1, 2010
In 2009 the Cannoneer introduced the racing Reningers and other Fort Sill speed freaks who get their kicks at Sooner Motorplex, a one-eighth mile dragstrip, south of Lawton, Okla.
Since that story ran, Staff Sgt. Luke Reninger stepped into the ranks of the noncommissioned officer corps where he serves as the NCO in charge of personnel for the U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill.
With the change in status, he's realized some of the privileges that come with increased rank. Though some of these privileges exist in the work environment, Reninger Racing has also benefited from Luke's career ascension.
Now when the Reningers load up for a Friday evening of racing, Alissa's car slips into their new enclosed trailer along with any tools and parts they may need.
Their cars still look much the same, as Alissa still drives a black 2003 Ford Mustang Mach 1 while Luke sits behind the wheel of a bright red 1997 Ford Thunderbird. But, deep inside the engine blocks, some components are new and fellow drivers may realize these cars aren't the same they previously faced.
Luke, who doubles as the couple's mechanic, began modifications by reinstalling the backseat in his car and tearing out the front passenger seat and its accompanying airbags to further reduce the car's weight. All told Luke shaved more than 600 pounds from his car, but that wasn't the only thing he did to improve his speed. If a microphone was installed in Luke's racing helmet, people may well hear, "Space Shuttle Atlantis, this is Houston, you are cleared for takeoff." For Reninger installed a $400-$500 nitrous system that ignites the moment he hits the gas pedal and rockets down the track.
"It's exhilarating and a lot of horsepower real quick," said Luke. "The first couple times it was little scary because the car goes a little more sideways with the kick of an extra 100 horses spurring it forward."
As a broad smile filled his face, his eyes lit up with excitement at the thought of his new toy.
"I like it, it's addicting and easy to want more," he said. Despite the promotion, nitrous is an expensive energy booster and may well wait for sergeant first class before Luke regularly employs it.
The couple holds steadfast to their rule that both cars run within a tenth of a second of each other. When one car gets a new component, Luke is back in the garage adding to the other car to improve its performance. In this case, he changed out the gears for Alissa's car installing gears that respond more like a motorcycle allowing her to change gears quicker and accelerate faster. He also adjusted the timing to add more power.
But this isn't just an evening joy ride as Luke's pay increase also provided the couple the capital to race weekly in competitive races. Competition entry fees are $20 plus another $10 to $20 for their category as street legal race cars.
True to form Alissa backed into competitive racing rather than having it accelerate her interest as it did for Luke. In regular races, the "Christmas Tree" light system that initiates a drag race operates differently than competitive races. Drivers line up on the starting line and watch intently as three consecutive flashing yellow lamps light up before the green go lamp illuminates.
"In competitive racing, there's only one warning light followed immediately by the green light," said Luke. "The first time you see lights you hit the accelerator and go."
To sweeten the deal Luke told Alissa she could keep all her winnings the first time they raced competitively, naturally she took advantage of this offer and won.
"I couldn't argue with him after that," she said with a twinkle in her eye. Quite likely, that gleam shines more brightly because Luke continues to let her keep all her winnings.
Luke said the prize money keeps the racing fun and helps them to continue racing. Already the couple placed first and second in a race which paid for their next two months on the track.
And, it's not just about racing. Alissa said they have made several friends with other drivers and though she's yet to meet other female drivers she encourages women to come out and give it a try.
"It's a great time, a rush, and it's safe," she said. "I didn't want to try at first, but now I'm hooked."
As for his continued career progression, Luke has plans for his first sergeant first class paycheck.
"I want to buy a Mach 1 so we both have the same car, and I'll get a nitrous kit for Alissa," he said. "It will pull her front wheels off the ground and may be a bit scary at first, but it will be worth it."
Race fans can catch short track thrills Friday nights start around 7:45 and continuing to 11:30 p.m. Sooner Motorplex is south of Lawton on I-44 at the last free exit before the toll road. For more information, check out www.hotrodshack.com.