Racing Has Special Meaning for Thoennes Family
Racing means a lot to the Josh and Heather Thoennes family. On the track, Josh gets a chance to race against his teenage son, Talan, in the Wissota Modified class weekly at Viking Speedway in Alexandria.
The racing family also means a lot to the Thoennes family, which showed clearly when Heather was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2018.
On the track, Josh, 42, is serving as a mentor to his 15-year-old son – while also competing against him every Saturday night.
“A crew chief and a competitor. I kind of want to beat him,” Talan said of the relationship.
“The toughest part is I really want to watch my son progress,” Josh said. “It’s hard when we’re always in the same race all the time so I don’t get to see him.”
Josh and Heather Thoennes have three children – Talan who is entering ninth grade; Tanner, who will be a sixth grader, and Joslyn, who will be in second grade. The family was jolted by Heather’s diagnosis in 2018, which was thyroid cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. The support of the racing family was a big help to the Thoennes family.
“I now tell people you are one lump away from your life possibly changing for ever,” Josh said. “Our racing family has helped our family get through it much easier. It’s probably made our family love racing even more knowing our race family is always there.”
Josh said Heather is doing “good.” She has a few spots doctors are watching closely, and the family is awaiting the results of a scan that took place last week.
“We’re hoping we can maybe get the ‘cancer free’ result,” Josh said.
On the track, Josh has been a successful racer. He started in the Wissota Midwest Modifieds in 2006, and won track championships in 2007 and 2008. He moved to the Wissota Modifieds in 2010 and won track titles in 2013 and 2017.
“When I was a kid, my cousin Rick raced, and my uncle Dave owned a car and Dennis Bitzan drove it,” Josh said. “We always worked on the cars over at Dave’s house. Ever since I was a kid I came here and just loved it and always wanted to do it.”
Talan Thoennes got his start in the go-karts. At age 13, he hopped behind the wheel of a modified. After some practice sessions, it was time to get out on the track and race.
“I was a little nervous at first just because all of the power; all of the people out there are pretty good,” Talan said. “I didn’t want to wreck anything. I hung back and learned how the track was and how the car handled.”
Josh’s advice to his son?
“The biggest thing was to stay patient and don’t do anything out of your comfort zone,” Josh said. “He’s done a really good job at that...he handled it really well. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and listens to what all of us tell him to do. Not getting in over your head is the biggest thing.”
“I’ve learned a lot about throttle control and steering and how the car handles throughout the corner,” Talan said.
There is another family angle for Josh: racing against his older brother Jason, a four-time Viking Speedway track champion. Josh used to pit for Jason before hopping into a car himself.
“I was probably his No. 1 fan,” Josh said. “We race each other clean all the time, but when we’re by each other, you want to push each other a little harder.”
Talan said the father-son team often on the cars together. A big thing for Talan going forward, is simply learning and gaining experience.
“More seat time, and slowly progressing,” Talan said. “I’m hoping to be on the throttle more and be a little faster at the start of the feature.”
For Josh Thoennes, who is closing in on two decades behind the wheel, racing remains enjoyable.
“A lot of it is the thrill of being out there,” Josh said. “Mostly, the camaraderie afterwards is one of the funnest things, just being around the racetrack, and the competition….everybody you get to meet that you probably wouldn’t if you weren’t racing.”
Wissota Modified #51
Residence: Nelson, Minn.
Wissota Modified #51.1
Residence: Nelson, Minn.
Sponsors (both cars): Evolve Orthodontics, TRE Race Parts, Sower Power Race Engines, Beverage Wholesalers/Miller Lite, SHAA Construction, T&S Electric, Five-One Motorsports, Wirenut, Lethal Chassis