Bud Johnson

Bud Johnson, an Olean, N.Y. native, poses in front of his famous No. 27 car prior to a race in 1963. The McKean Raceway will honor Johnson and legendary car owner Pete Parker on Saturday.

The legacy remains, 41 years after he retired, 12 of them following his passing.

It’s doubtful that any Southern Tier race driver has ever come close to composing the résumé put together by Bud Johnson.

After starting his career at Wellsville in 1947, he moved on to Oswego, then known as “the fastest short track in America.” Johnson, who sold car lubricants among other products to gas stations, soon earned a nickname, the “Bardahl Man from Olean,” the second and fourth words spoken in rhyme.

Back then, he was a relative “local” — from 170 miles away — at the 5/8ths-mile asphalt track with a national reputation.

But it was at the tracks closer to home — Bradford, Busti’s Stateline and Smethport’s McKean County Fairgrounds — where he put an exclamation point on a stellar career that included literally hundreds of feature wins in a storied 32-year career.

AND FRIDAY night at McKean Raceway, Johnson, who died at age 80 in 2009, and legendary car owner Pete Parker, who passed away at 79 a year ago, will be memorialized in an event tabbed “One Last Ride” that will be highlighted by two Rush Series Specials — Pro-Mods and Late Models.

The races were originally scheduled for mid-June but fell victim to rainy weather. Thus, they’ve been reset as part of McKean’s three-day Fall Classic.

“In effect it will be ‘Olean Night,’ said co-promoter Ken Leet, who along with Joel Smith, have resurrected the track..

“What makes this special,” Leet said, “is that the payoffs for winning the Rush Pro-Mod and Late Model races are each $2,500 to win, which is a good purse. Bud’s son, Jerry, made the donation (toward that prize money) in memory of his dad and Pete.

“We expect a really good field because the date isn’t competing with any other area tracks.”

AS JERRY Johnson recalled, “My dad had actually retired from racing in the mid-1970s and was away for about 15 months, but Pete talked him into coming back.

“Pete was a neat guy, he loved racing but never drove … he enjoyed race cars and he loved building them. He actually ran Olean Raceway (in Hinsdale) for a couple of years before it shut down (to make room for the Southern Tier Expressway).”

Johnson noted, “Pete started in racing in the late ’50s, building cars and owning them and he had a lot of cars that ran at Stateline and Eriez. He was competitive and wanted to win.

“He approached my dad about driving in 1976, after he retired, but Pete wanted him to drive because of who he was and what he had accomplished.”

And the unretired Johnson accomplished plenty more over the next four years.

“The story goes,” Jerry recounted, “Pete had built a new house and it had a giant mantle. He loved trophies, but had only one for ‘Best in Show.’ My dad saw that empty mantle and said, ‘We’ll fill it up,’ and he did.”

HOWEVER, by then Bud’s reputation was well in place.

“The stock car thing was kind of when he was at the end of his career,” Jerry said. “He even drove for the Van Curen family from Hinsdale for about four years.

“But at Oswego, he drove open-wheeled, super modified midget cars every Saturday night during the summer and never missed a show. It was such a prestigious place to race. And the purses were big back in the late ’50s and early ’60s.”

He pointed out, “Drivers came from as far away as Ohio and Michigan. Dad even raced against (two-time Indianapolis 500 winner) Gordon Johncock. What was unique about Oswego was that they’d only qualify 16 cars for the feature and there might be 50 cars trying for those spots.”

Eventually, though, Bud focused more on tracks closer to home.

“The travel was more of a factor as he got older,” Jerry admitted. “Dad drove for Jack Ehman of Little Valley and ran dirt and asphalt in the Southern Tier and Pennsylvania, anywhere there was an open race.

“It was still open-wheel midget cars and he’d win 20-30 features a year mostly at invitational and fair races.”

Indeed, in 1977, Bud never lost a feature of 25 laps or longer.

Jerry added, “Pete just enjoyed racing, the people, the events. But my father only went to a racetrack to win. He broke his back three times racing … there was a lot that went into (his success).”

(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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