An outstanding driver, car builder and innovative speed shop owner, Budd Olsen’s exceptional career achievements in these distinct areas made him one of the most influential persons in motorsports for over 40 years.
The Paulsboro, New Jersey-based Olsen (October 16, 1924 – December 26, 1991) was a World War II U.S. Navy veteran and service station operator when he began to race Sprint Cars in 1948 and he became the National Auto Racing Association Champion in 1951.
But he also competed in a handful of NASCAR Strictly Stock (Cup Series) races and in his first race at Pennsylvania’s old one-mile dirt Langhorne Speedway on September 11, 1949, he finished 12th in a 200-miler while driving Walt Frank’s No. 39 1949 Oldsmobile.
In 1955, Olsen started racing Modifieds on a regular basis at the old half-mile dirt “five-turn” Alycon Speedway in Pitman, New Jersey, in one of Lucky Jordan’s No. 2 Ford coupes. And he showed that he quickly adapted to the “full-bodied cars” in 1956 by winning his first of 14 races between 1956 and 1967 at the old half-mile Nazareth (Pa.) Raceway.
Then in 1958, Olsen made a run for the NASCAR National Modified Championship and in 90 starts in “Busty” Luzo’s red and white No. 98 1937 Ford coupe he won a dozen races and finished in the Top-10 an amazing 67 times. To reflect on the economics of winning the national title at that time, the point fund was worth just $600, chief mechanic Luzo got $150 from Wynn’s Friction Proofing and Olsen also got a shot gun.
But among Olsen’s notable victories during his National Championship season were two special races in New Jersey: the Garden State Classic 300 at the 1/3-mile asphalt Wall Stadium and the 100-miler on August 3 at Trenton Speedway, which was the first such race to be held on the recently paved one-mile track.
After 1958, Olsen just raced in the New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania and from that point on until he retired from driving in 1973 he drove such outstanding cars as: Harold Cope’s No. 1 Ford coupe; the No. 111 1937 Ford flat-back sedan & coupe field by the Maul Brothers and known as the “Maul Missile”; Dave Piscopo’s 1936 Chevrolet coupe; Stan Malimut’s No. 74 small-block Ford-powered coupes and sedans; Olsen’s own cream-colored “Lightning Zero” 1936 Chevrolet coupes and No. 92 1935 Chevrolet sedan; and; his final rides which were in the Cozze Brothers Engineering white No. 44 dirt-track 1936 Chevy coupe which he built and its Pinto-bodied asphalt brother.
In 1964, tragedy struck on Sunday night August 23 when Olsen’s brother-in-law and fellow EMPA Hall of Fame member Jackie McLaughlin suffered what would be fatal head injuries at Nazareth in the white No. 83 1936 Chevrolet coupe that Olsen built and owned. A union crane operator who helped to build the second span of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, Olsen reconsidered his racing activities for a time but won the 1964 championship in the Piscopo No. 39 at the old half-mile Reading (Pa.) Fairgrounds where he won nine career races.
In addition to winning races, the detail- and business-oriented Olsen had long been building Modifieds for others in the shop behind his home. And beginning in the early 1970s he followed the lead of his friend, racer and fellow EMPA Hall of Famer Dick “Toby” Tobias in the development of the purpose-built 2 x 4 Modified chassis that Tobias invented.
Then, soon after he retired from driving in 1973, Budd Olsen and his son Doug opened the original Budd Olsen Speed Supplies and Budd Olsen Race Cars operation just off Interstate 295 in Mickleton, New Jersey. Between 1973 and 1979, Olsen built more than 200 cars there. That expansive location was a center of dirt-track Modified stock-car racing technology and the building of winning BOSS race cars for over 25 years.