The King Of Raceway Park Won 11 Stock-Car Titles
Robert “Bud” Koehler was definitely the “King of Raceway Park.” Winning 490 stock-car races, Koehler was an 11-time stock-car champion at the now-defunct speedway, which was minutes away from his Blue Island, Ill., home.
Koehler was born in Groton, S.D., Feb. 15, 1921, with his family moving to Blue Island when Koehler was 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 he entered 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 his first stock-car title at the Chicago-area track. He was crowned the Midwest Car Owners and Drivers Ass’n midget champion in 1949 and again in 1950. He repeated as the Raceway Park midget champion in 1951 and 1952, garnering 10 midget triumphs at the track.
Sporting his trademark No. 77, a 1940 Ford carried Koehler to his first stock-car championship. An interior decorator/house painter by trade, Koehler took off only one year (1949) to go full-time racing, winning more than $12,000 during a hectic, sometimes seven-night-a-week racing schedule of the old Chicago-based Championship Stock Car Club.
Koehler went on to win the stock-car championship at Raceway Park another 10 times, capturing season honors in 1952, 1954, 1957, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1976. Koehler won the track’s annual 300-lap classic an incredible seven times. He was the stock-car champion at Mance Park Speedway in Hodgkins, Ill., in 1959.
Big old Nash Ambassadors, 1950-51 versions, carried Koehler to countless victories in the early 1950s. Koehler used the Nashes until 1957 when raceway management 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 a 1964 Mercury Marauder were used with the same results. Koehler drove Walt Mortenson’s ’64 Mercury to 28 victories in 1964.
Koehler joined forces with car owner Bill Koenig in 1966 and again won 28 features in a single season with Koenig’s rapid-running 1965 Chevelle propelling Koehler to another championship crown. Again driving for Koenig, Koehler scored his career-best 30 wins in a single season in 1967. The Koehler/Koenig combination secured six driving titles at the tight quarter-mile paved oval, including a string of three in a row, 1974 through 1976.
Without much fanfare, Koehler bowed out of racing after the 1978 season. Still painting and decorating houses into his ’80s, Koehler died April 21, 2003.