Berna is one championship away from making history
By Bert Lehman
Editor, Full Throttle Magazine
Green Bay’s Ron Berna remembers watching Terry Anvelink and M.J. McBride race. Berna says he thought he could do that someday, but he says he never thought he would join that elite company atop the track titles list at Shawano Speedway.
“It’s still kind of hard to believe that that’s happened,” Berna says. “It doesn’t seem like I’ve been doing it this long but it’s been awhile. But no, I would have never thought that.”
Berna currently has a total of seven track championships at Shawano Speedway — four in the Late Model division and three in the IMCA Modified division. This ties him with Anvelink and McBride for the most track championships at Shawano Speedway. Anvelink’s and McBride’s championships all came in the Late Model division.
Being in that company isn’t lost on Berna.
“To me it’s pretty impressive because I never thought I would be able to do anything that those guys did,” Berna says. “So yeah, it’s pretty exciting.”
Berna admits winning at least one more championship crosses his mind from time to time.
“It does because you never know when your last year is coming up,” Berna says. “I’ve always said points are points and I don’t try to win them at the beginning of the year. We always need to finish good because money is not always there so we try to do the best we can to get the most money we can. It just seems to fall into that towards the end of the year then you start getting serious about it.”
Berna’s family tree at Shawano Speedway dates back to the 1960s when his dad owned a race car driven by Al Trudell.
“I guess that’s how it got in my blood,” Berna says.
He says his first attempt behind the wheel of a race car was Enduro racing, which he says he didn’t have much success at. He then moved to a Street Stock, racing it at 141 Speedway.
“It was on the blacktop and I really didn’t have anybody coaching me of what I’m supposed to do so I just drove way too hard, probably like I still do. And they told me to go run on the dirt,” Berna recalls.
He went to race at Luxemburg Speedway and his dirt racing career was born.
“I liked that so we kind of stuck around there,” he says.
Looking for a new challenge, Berna eventually jumped to the IMCA Modified division.
“We bought a new Bay Speed car and it was a fancier one than what everyone else had,” Berna recalls. “I don’t think that was the way to go. I think we should have went with the old school car with leaf springs. We ran that for a year and we banged the car up really bad most of the time.”
An encounter with representatives from the company that builds the Harris chassis helped to turn the results around for Berna.
“We got a chassis from them and then put it together like they wanted. Then we started having some success,” he says.
After a successful run in the IMCA Modified division, circumstances and fulfilling a dream took Berna to the Late Model division.
“We won our share of features and we were getting motors claimed, and we were claiming motors and it wasn’t any fun,” Berna says. “I always thought what’s yours is yours and what’s theirs is theirs. Pretty soon we were stealing stuff from people and it just wasn’t [fun]. We wanted to move up.”
With the help of his brother John, Berna made the switch to a Late Model.
“It’s high competition around here. It’s the fastest cars around here. I like that. I always wanted to drive a Late Model,” Berna says.
He bought his first Late Model from Anvelink. The car was previously owned by Pete Parker. No longer was Berna just watching those legends race, he was actually racing against them. He says he had his Modified motor in the Late Model the first couple weeks of his rookie season at Shawano Speedway.
“The first night we were actually running second and I broke the brakes in the back and I think we ended up getting third,” Berna recalls.
That was just the beginning of what has turned into a memorable Late Model racing career. It’s a division he enjoys, but also a division he fears for its survival.
“Every year we try hard to make the class bigger and this year was an up and down deal,” he says. “It started out where things didn’t look so good and some rules stuff changed and that kind of got everybody all riled up. The last month or so we’ve had a good car count. All we can do is keep pushing to [improve the class]. You never know what is going to happen from year to year.”
For now, though, Berna says he is taking it week to week in his quest for that record-breaking championship. At the end of July, Berna was second in the standings at Shawano Speedway.
In the future, Berna says he would like to travel to more out of town races.
“If a guy had a little bit more funds that would help out,” he says. “That’s always the deal. We used to do it a few years back and that was fun. It’s always interesting meeting new people or running with different cars.
“As long as there is a track there I like racing on it.”
(This article first appeared in the August 2014 issue of Full Throttle Magazine. Since then Berna did win his record-breaking championship.)