The legacy remains, 41 years after his retirement, including 12 years after his death.
It’s unlikely that a Southern Tier racing driver ever managed to put together the curriculum vitae that Bud Johnson wrote.
After starting his career in Wellsville in 1947, he moved to Oswego, then known as “America’s fastest short track”. Johnson, who sold car lubricants among other products at gas stations, was quickly nicknamed “Olean’s Bardahl man,” with the second and fourth words spoken in rhyme.
At the time, he was a relative “local” – 170 miles away – on the 5/8 mile asphalt track with a national reputation.
But it was on the tracks closest to his home – Bradford, Busti’s Stateline and McKean County Fairgrounds from Smethport – where he put an exclamation mark on a stellar career that included literally hundreds of feature film wins over the course of of a 32-year career.
AND FRIDAY night at McKean Raceway, Johnson, who passed away at the age of 80 in 2009, and legendary car owner Pete Parker, who died at the age of 79 a year ago, will be commemorated in an event titled “One Last Ride” which will be highlighted by two specials from the Rush series – Pro-Mods and Late Models.
The races were originally scheduled for mid-June but suffered from the rainy weather. So, they were reset as part of McKean’s three-day fall classic.
âIt’ll actually be ‘Olean Night,’ said co-promoter Ken Leet, who along with Joel Smith resurrected the track.
âWhat makes this special,â said Leet, âis that the payouts for winning the Rush Pro-Mod and Late Model races are each $ 2,500 up for grabs, which is a good purse. Bud’s son , Jerry, made the donation (towards this cash prize) in memory of his father and Pete.
“We expect a very good field as the date does not compete with any other track in the region.”
AS JERRY Johnson recalls, âMy dad had retired from racing in the mid-1970s and was gone for about 15 months, but Pete convinced him to come back.
âPete was a good guy, he loved racing but never droveâ¦ he loved racing cars and he loved building them. He actually ran Olean Raceway (in Hinsdale) for a few years before it closed (to make room for the Southern Tier Expressway).
Johnson noted: âPete started racing in the late 50’s, building cars and owning them and he had a lot of cars that drove around Stateline and Eriez. He was competitive and wanted to win.
âHe asked my dad to drive in 1976 after he retired, but Pete wanted him to drive because of who he was and what he had accomplished.
And Johnson, who did not retire, accomplished much more over the next four years.
âThe story goes,â Jerry said, âPete had built a new house and she had a giant coat. He loved trophies, but only had one for theâ Best in Show. âMy dad did. saw that empty mantle and said, “We’re going to fill it” and he did. “
HOWEVER, by this time Bud’s reputation was firmly in place.
âThe stock car thing was kinda when he was at the end of his career,â Jerry said. âHe even drove for the Van Curen family from Hinsdale for about four years.
âBut in Oswego, he drove open-wheel, super-modified miniature cars every Saturday night during the summer and never missed a show. It was such a prestigious place to run. And handbags were huge in the late 50’s and early 60’s. “
He pointed out, âThe 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 only qualified 16 cars for the function and there could be 50 cars trying for those spots.
Eventually, however, Bud focused more on songs closer to home.
âTravel was more of a factor as he got older,â Jerry admitted. âDad drove for Jack Ehman from Little Valley and raced dirt and asphalt in the Southern Tier and Pennsylvania wherever there was an open race.
“They were still miniature open-wheeled cars and he won 20 to 30 feature films a year, mostly at invitational races and fairs.”
Indeed, in 1977, Bud never lost a characteristic of 25 turns or more.
Jerry added, âPete just loved the race, the people, the events. But my dad only went to a race track to win. He broke his back three times in the raceâ¦ there was a lot in (his success).