The most successful driver in Chicago area racing history. Winner of over 500 main events in both midget and stock car racing competition, Koehler was an 11-time stock car champion at Raceway Park.
The most successful driver in Chicago area racing history. Winner of over 500 main events in both midget and stock car racing competition, Koehler was an 11-time stock car champion at the now-defunct Raceway Park, minutes away from his Blue Island home, winning a total of 490 stock car feature races there in addition to 10 midget features.
Koehler was born in Groton, S.D. on February 15, 1921 with his family moving to Blue Island when Koehler was only a youngster. Playing in a railroad yard near his home as a youth, Koehler lost part of his right hand and fingers in an accident. Motorcycles and motorcycle racing played a part in Koehler's life during his teenage and early adult years before entering midget racing competition after World War II.
In the Post War era, Koehler established himself as one of the top midget drivers in the Midwest. He won his first midget driving championship at Raceway Park in 1949, the same year he won he first stock car title at the Chicago area speedway. He was crowned the Midwest Car Owners and Drivers Association midget champion in 1949 and again in 1951. He repeated his Raceway midget driving titles in 1951 and 1952.
Carrying his trademark number "77", a 1940 Ford carried Koehler to his first stock car championship at Raceway Park in 1949 with Koehler winning eight feature races during his initial season in stock car action. An interior decorator/house painter by trade, Koehler took off only one year (1949) to go full-time racing, winning over $12,000 during a hectic, sometimes seven nights a week racing schedule of the old Chicago-based Championship Stock Car Club.
Koehler would go on to win the stock car championship at the Blue Island oval another 10 times, capturing season honors in 1952, 1954, 1957, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1976. Koehler captured Raceway's annual 300 Lap Classic an incredible seven times. He was also the stock car champion at the old Mance Park Speedway (Hodgkins, Ill.) in 1959.
Highlights of Koehler's racing career could fill a book with the championships, winning cars and stories behind the victories and near-victories almost unbelievable. Big, old Nash Ambassadors, 1950-51 versions, carried Koehler to countless victories at Raceway in the early 1950's. Koehler used the Nashes until 1957 when Raceway invoked a "late model cars" only ruling once the season got underway. A 1956 Studebaker Hawk was Koehler's "ride" during those first years of late model competition with the results being pretty much the same-"winning." A '56 Mercury, a '60 Ford and then a 1964 Mercury Marauder were used with the same results. Koehler drove Walt Mortenson's '64 Mercury to 28 feature wins in 1964, grabbing his fifth Raceway track title.
Koehler joined forces with car owner Bill Koenig in 1966 and won 28 feature races again in a single season. Koenig's rapid-running 1965 Chevelle propelled Koehler to another Raceway crown. Again driving for Koenig, Koehler would score his career best 30 wins in a single season in 1967. The Koehler/Koenig combination would go on to win a total of six driving titles at Raceway, including a string of three in a row, 1974 through 1976.
With Raceway Park running a summer schedule of sometimes four nights a week, Koehler registered his 100th victory in 1958, his 200th in 1963, his 300th in 1967 and his 400th in 1973. With career records like this, Koehler had to be considered "King of Raceway's Quarter Mile." Without much fanfare, Koehler bowed out of racing after the 1978 campaign. Well passed his 80th birthday, Koehler continued to work daily at his painting and decorating profession.
Koehler always credited his success to his car owners and mechanics that helped him throughout his career. Koehler would praise the likes of Johnny Miller and Bob Pohlman, in addition to Mortenson and Koenig.
"He was a true friend and the greatest short track driver of all time," said friend and longtime Raceway Park announcer, Wayne Adams. "Raceway during all of those years lined up the cars 100% inverted. The races he won back then had 25 or 30 cars in a feature. He had to batter his way through a lot of competition. If a person never saw Koehler, (Bob) Pronger and
(Bill) Van Allen in the same race, they never seen a race."
Adams, a longtime journalist for the old Illustrated Speedway News racing newspaper, once wrote, "If and when, a history of short track stock car racing is ever compiled, the name of Bud Koehler could almost be included on every page." Koehler's career records at a single track will probably never be broken, considering the number of years Koehler raced and the number of events Raceway would run during a single season. Koehler was definitely the "King of Raceway Park."