When one talks to Josh Kleinke, one notices that the young teenager from Otway doesn’t like to talk a whole lot, and much less about himself.
However, one thing that Josh Kleinke takes to very well is the sport of drag racing. And it’s already clear that he’s quite good at it.
With three feature wins to his credit in just a dozen appearances in a car called “The Sarge,” the eighth-grader at Portsmouth West Middle School is certainly a rising star in the drag racing ranks — so much so, in fact, that Kleinke, with the help of his father, Danny, and sponsors such as Donnie Smith Trucking, Blake’s Tire and Auto, Simply the Best Hair Salon, and Kleinke Enterprise, will be competing in the esteemed IHRA (International Hot Rod Association) ranks in 2018.
As with any racing hopeful, the time commitment — which runs from late winter to late fall of the same year — is certainly a challenge, especially for a youngster like Josh.
So when one asks the main question of whether or not drag racing will turn into a hobby, the main answer, as of now, is that it isn’t planned — but is certainly not out of the question in the right situation, considering how competitive Josh is.
“We’re not really looking at it as a career right now, but you never know,” Josh’s father, Danny, said. “Josh is just a really competitive kid. He’s played sports his entire life.”
“It’s just finding something to do,” Josh said.
As he scoots the chair back and forth, one can tell that Josh is eager to get moving. And from the outset, Josh has certainly done that.
This was especially true at the Interstate 64 Motorplex facility in Owingsville, Ky., a regionally renowned drag racing facility that serves as Josh’s home track.
With 15 to 30 car fields every week, and at least 10 states represented in the field during most of the races, according to Danny, Josh was picked as part of the I-64 Motorplex’s All-Star team — an impressive feat considering that the talent comes from not only the Buckeye and Bluegrass States, but Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia as well.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s racing these chairs,” Danny said, using the chairs that the Kleinkes sat in at the Daily Times’ offices to describe his point. “He just loves racing. He’s competitive.”
“It’s just fun,” Josh said. “I have a blast with it.”
While Josh ultimately didn’t get to go with the I-64 Motorplex squad due to an illness in the family, the success that the younger Kleinke has had so far is nothing to sneeze at. In addition to his three feature wins, Kleinke ultimately advanced to the semis in eight of the 12 feature races that the West attendee competed in, going to the finals four times in all.
“We went into this as a nobody,” Josh’s father, Danny, said. “Before the season was over, he had been invited to go to Pittsburgh and race with with the I-64 Motorplex team.”
Josh, who competes at Keystone Raceway in Pittsburgh and Memphis International Speedway in Memphis, Tenn. in addition to the facility at I-64 Motorplex, also gets a wide variety of attention for how sharp his junior dragster looks. The dragster, which is called “The Sarge,” is an exact replica, from a paint scheme standpoint, of Tony Schumacher’s familiar U.S. Army-colored Top Fuel Dragster that the latter competed with in NHRA (National Hot Road Association) competition. The latter has won 83 races, 61 poles, and a Top Fuel record eight championships as a driver.
“It was right on the Florida-Georgia line,” Danny said. “We went down in June and got it. It brings a lot of attention to him that the other cars and drivers don’t get.”
Not surprisingly, the luck of the U.S. Army colors found their way to Josh, the competitive and fiery racer. He won his first feature inside “The Sarge.”
“It was like a match made in heaven with him and the car,” Danny said.
With success already coming at a fast pace, the Kleinkes plan on big things for 2018 — which include competing at the IHRA National Championships down in Memphis later this year.
“The goal next year is to win a points championship and go to Memphis and race,” Danny said. “We’re planning on racing in four states next year (Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee), so it should be a lot of fun.”
However, for this father and son duo, the love of racing is, as they’ll tell all who ask, more about doing something together than anything else.
“We have a blast with it,” Danny said. “We just bought a new trailer. It’s something where we can go out of town and stay in. It’s got living quarters in it, with a bathroom, a shower, and all the works, so we’ll definitely be doing some out-of-town racing this year.”