Kelly Bires is best known for his racing career, but he was certainly no slouch on the wrestling mat either.
Bires, a two-time state wrestling champion during his Mauston career, was inducted into the Mauston Wrestling Club Hall of Fame during a ceremony prior to the Mauston-Wisconsin Dells dual meet Tuesday, Jan. 30.
He was inducted by his former coach, Tom Miller, at the ceremony, who noted that Bires didn’t even plan on going out for wrestling in high school. Instead, he initially was going to play basketball.
“Kelly’s one of those guys who’s going to succeed in whatever he does. I think he could’ve been a good curler if he tried it,” Miller joked.
According to Bires, a 2003 Mauston High School graduate, he stopped wrestling around third grade and chose to pursue basketball from that point forward. It wasn’t until entering high school that, at the behest of his brother and others, he reconsidered and joined the wrestling team.
“It was like two weeks before the season, I already had basketball shoes … I was good at basketball and was going to go out for basketball,” Bires said. “Between my brother, uncles, all the wrestlers and buddies of mine, football players, who said ‘you need to come out for wrestling.’”
Bires recalled his brother and himself spending a whole day looking for a pair of wrestling shoes small enough for him, a search which took them from Madison to La Crosse and just about everywhere in between. But once he finally decided to wrestle and acquired all the necessary gear, Bires began to forge his legacy with Mauston wrestling.
Though there were naturally growing pains for a guy who hadn’t wrestled competitively since elementary school, Bires eventually blossomed into one of the top wrestlers in the state in his weight class.
As a sophomore, he placed third at the 2001 state meet in the Division 2 106 weight class bracket. During his junior year, despite dropping eight matches throughout the season, Bires made a run all the way to a state title in the Division 2 113 weight class. In his senior season, he went 37-3 on his way to a second consecutive state championship.
In addition to his two state titles, Bires posted a 133-24 career record and was a two-time South Central Conference champion, a four-time academic all-state selection, a Wrestling USA academic All-American pick and a Wrestling USA All-American honorable mention.
He was recruited to wrestle at schools such as Maryland, North Carolina State and Duke. But Bires turned down the opportunity to pursue his first passion: racing. That passion took him all the way to the NASCAR Nationwide Series, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and even a few races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Bires now lives back in the area and owns kbr Performance in Lyndon Station, a shop devoted to the building and facilitation of stock cars.
But Tuesday night was all about what he accomplished on the wrestling mat rather than the racetrack.
In attendance at the ceremony were the parents of the late Cory Henry, a standout wrestler at Viroqua High School. Bires and Henry wrestled several times throughout their careers, including the third-place match at the 2001 state meet. They also met during regionals in 2002 and likely would have faced off again at sectionals and, perhaps, yet again at state.
However, Henry tragically died in a car accident just days before the sectional meet.
“A special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Henry for coming,” Bires said. “Cory was a great human being and someone that really kept me on my toes when I wrestled against him.”
Bires was joined in this year’s class by his parents, Jim and Deb Bires, who have been involved in Mauston wrestling for years and were not told of their planned induction until being surprised with the news at the ceremony itself.
“I knew my parents were getting inducted,” Bires said. “I didn’t say anything to them; I wanted it to be a surprise. It’s pretty neat though.”
His maternal grandparents, Ernie and Audry Schmocker, and two of his uncles, Ed and Ken Schmocker, are also members of the Mauston Wrestling Club Hall of Fame.