M&M Shiocton Speedway
By Ron Kowalke
In the truest sense of the word family, M&M Shiocton Speedway and its accompanying bar was a family operation. This became evident at a 2019 gathering in Shiocton when the grandchildren of track founders Walter and Laura Mentzel reminisced about the quarter-mile racetrack that was in operation from 1959 to 1973, and located 4-1/2 miles northwest of Shiocton on Highway 76.
Present at the gathering were Deb Mentzel and her fiancé Karl Timmreck, and Kevin Mentzel and his wife Wendy. They were joined by local racing legend “The Flying Farmer” Roger Paul and his wife Karen. Rehashing the goings-on at Shiocton Speedway by the group uncovered many facts, but also involved quite a bit of speculation. Gaps in the facts were due to the three founders/owners of the track during its years of operation, Walter, Laura and their son, Lee Roy, all being deceased and certain information being lost to time.
What the group did provide was an interesting account of the origin of the racetrack and bar, and how both became fixtures of the Shiocton community until their closing in 1973.
Deb Mentzel was seven years old when M&M Shiocton Speedway and the bar opened in 1959. She helped Laura Mentzel, known by everyone as “Grandma,” in the bar, which was located outside turn four of the track and was open every day. It was famous, according to Deb, for its Friday night fish fries, Saturday pool tournaments, being the hangout on Sundays after the races, and five-cent beers on Monday.
The racetrack, according to both Deb and Kevin Mentzel, was mildly banked and always held racing on Sunday afternoons. It featured a combination of man-made and natural barriers to keep out-of-control stock cars on track. Turns three and four and fronting the spectator stands was a stretch of horizontal wooden fencing backed with upright poles. Turns one and two were ringed by a dirt berm covered in brush and small trees. Deb said she remembers the occasional stock car getting swallowed by the foliage as it crashed out of turns one or two.
Much of the lumber used for building the fencing, bleachers, concession stands and flagstand came from the trees that were cleared from the property to make way for construction of the track and bar.
Walter Mentzel, according to Kevin, was a dairy and crop farmer in the 1950s. He owned a large swath of land alongside the Embarrass River and decided to become a racetrack promoter and bar owner using that property. Why he chose to do this remains a mystery. Both Deb and Kevin said neither their grandfather Walter nor their father Lee Roy raced stock cars. Neither are they remembered as being huge race fans. Yet, Walter sold his dairy herd and plowed that money into the construction of Shiocton Speedway and the bar, and had them both operational in 1959.
Unfortunately, Deb explained, Walter’s time running his new ventures was short-lived. He suffered a heart attack and died in 1961. At that point, Lee Roy joined his mother Laura as co-owners of the track and bar, which remained in place for the next 12 years. This is also how the M&M portion of the racetrack’s name originated, and has nothing to do with candy. It simply reflects the two generations of Mentzel track ownership: Walter/Laura and Lee Roy.
The creation of Shiocton Speedway in 1959 also launched the racing career of a 24-year-old man who lived a short distance from the track. Milking cows and raising corn, cabbage and soybeans by trade, Roger Paul was fittingly dubbed “The Flying Farmer” when he strapped into a stock car. During Shiocton Speedway’s 14 years of existence, Roger and Karen Paul estimate he won “close to 100 races” at the track.
Karen Paul stated she was the culprit that got her husband started in racing. For around $100, she bought a 1949 Oldsmobile that had suffered front-end collision damage. Roger said he cut off everything forward of the cowl and grafted on new parts to form his first stock car. But Roger wasn’t the only driver to race that farm-built #95 at Shiocton Speedway. Karen said she also ran the Olds in one of the track’s powder puff events. She admitted it didn’t go well, and joked, “That one race was my whole racing career.”
Asked about what he remembers of racing at Shiocton Speedway, Roger had vivid recollections of what it took to run well there. One example was a large tree on his farm that was employed in a crude winching system to raise the back of his stock car so he could work underneath it.
“We’d come back from [half-mile] DePere on Saturday nights and raise that car up to change the rear end for [quarter-mile] Shiocton on Sunday.”
What else came to mind was a deal Roger struck with then Shiocton salvage yard owner Jerry Bedor.
“I’d get engines from him, and if they lasted more than one race I had to pay for them,” Paul said.
While Roger was a frequent winner at Shiocton Speedway, he named several other drivers who he respected as tough competitors and who also had success there. Among them were Cliff “Squeek” Miller, George Giesen, Lyle “Pappy” Diemel and Glen Bessette. As for his most memorable race at the track, Roger recalled the time he and Bessette spun each other out and his #95 crossed under the checkered flag going backwards as ranking near the top.
Growing up at the track
As for her best memories of the racetrack and bar, Deb Mentzel shared several happy recollections from her youth. She said it was common for local boys to try and sneak into the pit area on race days to help crew on the stock cars. She estimated that the main bleachers, an additional smaller set of bleachers and a small covered grandstand all along the front stretch had a capacity to seat 1,000 spectators.
“They would be full,” she said of race day crowds.
She listed Fletcher’s Towing of neighboring community Sugar Bush as providing wrecker service at the track, and recalled Don MacDonald was the flagman at Shiocton Speedway. “He seemed perilously close to the track,” flagging from an elevated platform on the inside of the front straight.
Pictures of the racetrack show it was equipped with light poles, but neither Deb or Kevin recall any night racing taking place. They could only speculate that there may have been additional events such as tractor pulls or demolition derbies that Shiocton Speedway hosted on nights other than Sundays.
Deb Mentzel’s fondest memory, though, involves supplying food for the Friday fish fries at the bar. She said her fishing lures consisted of scraps of shiny foil salvaged from discarded potato chip bags. The fishing expeditions took place next door to the racetrack in the Embarrass River, and they were successful.
“We’d fill five-gallon buckets with white bass,” she said.
The new surface
A not so pleasant memory Deb Mentzel shared was seeing what happened once the race program ended in Shiocton Speedway’s early years. “People would leave speckled with dirt,” and this was the reason the track was eventually paved. Roger Paul remembered the resurfacing occurred in 1962, and he should know. He was part of the paving crew. He added that once the track was paved, it added drivers to its original lineup of dirt racers.
“You could still run both [surfaces with the same car] then,” Paul said.
Eventually, though, even paving the track couldn’t solve the problem of declining car counts. Both Kevin Mentzel and Roger Paul attributed this gradual drop-off to drivers wanting to race on the half-mile tracks, which offered better payouts and less crash damage than that inflicted on the smaller, bullring-type tracks. By the late 1960s, stock cars were transitioning from inexpensive salvage yard-sourced battering rams to more sophisticated Late Models that cost more to build and repair.
At the conclusion of the 1973 racing season, Laura, then age 66, and Lee Roy Mentzel decided to close both Shiocton Speedway and the bar. The property was eventually cleared of all traces of both facilities, and the grounds returned to the riverfront woodlands that hide the site to this day.
For 14 years, M&M Shiocton Speedway and its accompanying bar were important members of the Shiocton community. Their demise was taken hard, as Deb Mentzel summed it up, “The closing was a major disappointment for everyone.”
This article first appeared in the August 2019 issue of Full Throttle magazine.