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Ryan Manthei Takes 'Bucket List' Car to Bristol for Short Track U.S. Nationals

Driving a car first raced by his late brother, Ryan Manthei enjoyed an unforgettable weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway while competing in the Short Track U.S. Nationals: The Last Lap


hero image for Ryan Manthei Takes 'Bucket List' Car to Bristol for Short Track U.S. Nationals

One of the biggest smiles and brightest laughs in the pits at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday came from a driver who finished 12th in his B-Main.

Ryan Manthei may not have been racing during main event time for the CRA Street Stock Series during the Short Track U.S. Nationals, but the look on his face as he pulled into the pits made it clear he was having the time of his life.

Photo credit: Zach Evans, Racing America

There are plenty of reasons for that. There are the obvious ones, like the opportunity for grassroots racers, the weekend warriors in Street Stocks and Compacts getting to race at the world-famous high banks of Bristol.

As soon as the event was announced in November, Manthei knew he had to be part of it.

“This popped up, and James Swan and I are both friends. We used to race Mid-American [Stock Car Series] against each other. I’ve never been as cool as him, but I feel like it today. We were messaging each other that if this Bristol thing happens, we’re going. We’re going to bring whatever we can find.”

The car he brought is definitely the most special in his garage. It’s a car built in 1988, raced by his older brother Chad before his passing. Ryan has assembled a “bucket list” of tracks in his home state of Wisconsin, both dirt and pavement, checking off stops in his brother’s car.

“We call it our Bucket List car. We have a bunch of cars we race up in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. This one was my older brother’s car. We’ve been running it for seven or eight years.

“He passed away in ‘92. This car was built in ’88 as a race car. It’s raced all over the dirt tracks in Wisconsin. About eight years ago we found it, rebuilt it and we decided to race it at every track in the state of Wisconsin at least once as our bucket list thing.”

Even the story of relocating the car is a special one. It originally had been sold to a family friend, but with time it had passed around to other hands.

“It went from person to person. It was sold to a family friend, and they sold it to somebody else. We kind of lost track of it and found it through Facebook. I messaged the guy and said, ‘I think that’s the one that was my brother’s.’

“We picked it up, and it was a special deal. The guy, he wouldn’t let me pay for it. He gave it to me. It was a cool deal. Racing is full of so many great people.”

Photo credit: Will Bellamy, Racing America

It may not have been a track in Wisconsin, but once the opportunity arose to take the “Bucket List” car to Bristol, there was no other choice.

“We took the engine and transmission out of this thing and found the best ones out of our fleet, which wasn’t near enough. We got it together. My crew, my guys, John, Fatty, Rick, AJ, they all busted their ass. Dave Seidl at home, love all you guys. It made for a life experience I’ll never forget. It’s so cool to be able to do this in my big brother’s car."

Manthei placed 50th out of 61 cars in qualifying, which placed him 17th in the starting grid for the B-Main. Only four cars transferred from the B-Main to the A-Main, meaning Manthei's work was cut out for him with only 25 laps.

Still, Manthei passed plenty of cars in those 25 laps, getting as high as 11th before finishing 12th.

“We were getting close to the top 10. It was all we had to get where we got.”

Beyond the on-track result, the experience of racing at Bristol is one Manthei will never forget. His close racing friends had tried to prepare him for the sensations and emotions, but nothing could do it justice.

“I talked to some good friends who had raced here before. A guy up in Norway, Joey Pontbriand, and my hero that I want to be like when I grow up, his name’s Bill Prietzel. He said, ‘Just come here and have a good time.’ The guys we’re racing against are really serious racers. They talked about the facility and take it all in.

“They said all the right things to make it special, but it still wasn’t enough. The place is just incredible. Absolutely breathtaking. And then to drive it, is beyond comprehension cool.”

There are at least two more events on the schedule for the car in 2024, both back home in Wisconsin. Manthei plans to race at The Milwaukee Mile and LaCrosse Oktoberfest.

“This year, for this car, we’re going to probably run two for sure. We’re going to run The Milwaukee Mile, for sure, with the vintage series or sportsman, whatever the hell they’ll let us race. Then we’re going to bring it to Oktoberfest in LaCrosse. I haven’t been there since my 20s. We’re going to run every night they can possibly race, and we’re going to race this one there too.”

However, there was a more pressing matter once his night was over at Bristol. That was the post-race celebration.

“We’re gonna keep the party going, though. We’re going to Nashville, and we’ll sing downtown!”

-Photo credit: Will Bellamy, Racing America

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