McBride remembered with legendary tributes
By Bert Lehman
For more than 40 years M.J. McBride and Shawano Speedway were synonymous with each other.
Although there is no official record of this, McBride has probably made more laps around Shawano Speedway than any other driver. Early in his racing career is was numbers A98, 47, 7, 30 and 66 flying around that track. More than 30 years prior to his retirement from racing, the No. 5 was a fixture week in and week out at the Speedway.
The local racing community was saddened in mid-February when news circulated about McBride’s passing. In less than two months the M.J. McBride Memorial race was scheduled for opening at Shawano Speedway.
The McBride family added extra money to the Late Model purse for the opener. Fans and businesses also sponsored lap leader money for all 30 laps of the feature. An additional $800 was given by fans and businesses to the winning driver’s share of the purse, along with $300 worth of product from a local business. Money was given by fans for a hard charger award, hard luck award and long tow award, in addition to extra money being added to some of the finishing positions. There were also some fan giveaways in which fans received at least $100.
The night also allowed family, friends and fans of McBride to remember a man who became a legend at the Speedway. And oh did they ever. An overflowing crowd made their way to Shawano Speedway that night, with reports that some requested a refund because they couldn’t find a seat in the grandstand.
Prior to the racing program, the Speedway held a special ceremony in tribute to McBride.
The four track champions from last season, carrying American Flags, led a procession that was fo
llowed by Dean McBride, M.J.’s son, driving Joe Reuter’s Late Model. Following Dean McBride were Terry Anvelink (driving his son Nick’s Late Model), Tom Naeyaert and Doug Blashe, each carrying a black flag in remembrance of M.J. McBride. All three were long-time competitors of M.J. Any driver at the track who wanted to be part of the procession then followed.
After the national anthem, Dean McBride was parked on the frontstretch and all the drivers behind him drove by, some stopping to show their support. After the track was cleared except for the Late Model Dean was driving, he was given a checkered flag and told to make one final lap in honor of his dad. When he finished that lap and crossed the finish line, the flagman waved the checkered flags, and Dean pulled into the pit area.
With the right side of Reuter’s Late Model decked out with a M.J. McBride graphics scheme he once raced, the final lap allowed everyone to see the famous No. 5 roll around the track one last time with a checkered flag.
Dean said Shawano Speedway was responsible for planning and organizing the special tribute.
“They asked my mother who she wanted to take the final lap and she said me,” Dean said.
He admitted it was a little surprising to him.
“Throughout all the years at the race track I’ve never been around the track in a car,” Dean said. “That was my first.”
Dean said it was overwhelming following last year’s champions around the track. It became even more overwhelming when he was told to wait until the other drivers cleared the track and he would make one final lap by himself.
“At that point all the Late Model cars that were behind me stopped and gave me the thumbs up,” Dean said.
When asked what he was feeling at the time, he quickly responded, “I cried in the car. I knew a lot of them like Blashe and Terry Anvelink, I more or less grew up watching those guys race with my dad.”
Anvelink said it was an honor to be part of the tribute.
“Just by looking at the crowd it was pretty amazing to be part of that procession,” Anvelink said. “Thinking back to all the good times we had racing. He was a great competitor and a great friend.”
Naeyaert said he knew it was going to be a special moment.
“I purposely went out a little early and sat on pit lane and just thought about all the years that he put in here,” Naeyaert said. “And not that he put in all the time, but he and Marilyn (M.J.’s wife) put in all the time. For upwards of 40 years they were at this race track every Saturday night. To me that’s mindboggling. That’s dedication to a sport if I’ve ever heard the meaning of it.”
It was also special for Blashe to be part of the tribute.
“It kind of brought back memories from the races that we’ve had and the times when I’ve asked him for advice when we first started,” Blashe said. “When we got done there were almost tears in my eyes. The turnout that we had for all the people in the grandstand was remarkable. I’m really glad I was part of it and could race with him. It was really an awesome feeling right to the heart.”
Reuter said Marilyn, asked him to put a vintage M.J. graphics scheme on his car.
“I ran the No. 5 basically my whole life in karts and when I got into cars I knew I wouldn’t have the 5 so I picked No. 20,” Reuter said. “Just to be able to run the 5 knowing what it means to him and to me was really awesome.
Brett Swedberg also had the right side of his Late Model decked out in a vintage M.J. McBride graphics scheme. Swedberg said he has a few pit crew members that were also long-time pit crew members for M.J. and this was his team’s way of remembering M.J.
A.J. Diemel put a “big” No. 5 on both sides of his Late Model, over the top of the “5” in his No. 58. The “5” was in the same style that M.J. had for many years.
Several drivers also put “In Memory 5” stickers on their cars.
Prior to the feature, Nick Anvelink said it would be awesome to win the inaugural M.J. McBride Memorial race.
Since he was starting on the front row he said his goal was to “set a pretty good pace and don’t look back.”
When all was said and done, Nick led all 30 laps to claim the $2,000-to-win feature, $300 in product and $1,258 in lap leader money.
“It’s a cool deal to win memorial races like this,” Nick said. “He’s raced here, him and my dad both, for 40 years and I’ve watched him since I can remember. I got to race with him. It’s a really cool deal to see how many people came and supported it tonight. That’s probably the most people I’ve ever seen.”
He added that the win ranks high on his all-time wins list.
“It ended up being a pretty big payout race,” Nick said. “It’s the first race of the year. I’m happy. It makes your whole season a lot easier when you can get that win out of the way early. I’ve had years where you don’t win right away and you start seeing ghosts after awhile. It’s good to get it out of the way and get everybody settled down where you can stay focused on things.”
Terry Anvelink said it was special for the whole Anvelink family to win on the night M.J. was being remembered.
“We kind of celebrated the next day when the pressure was all off and we kind of realized what went down,” Terry said. “There were a lot of years of racing together all bundled up into one night. It was a pretty emotional thing.”
He added, “I was really happy they had it for M.J. It was one of the biggest sendoffs I’ve ever seen around here or anywhere as far as that goes. It was nice to see the people turnout.”
(This article appeared in the May 2016 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)