Bud Preuss Earned His Very First Of What Just Might Be Many More

Words John DiBartolomeo/Photos Ron Lewis & Auto Imagery

Growing up in southern California must have had a profound effect on DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals winner Bud Preuss. Racing in the Racing RVs.com Top Sportsman class, Preuss earned his first Wally after two prior runner-ups in national events. Now living in the slightly more open confines of Colorado, it still was his SoCal experiences which parlayed his car guy vernacular. That and one particular high school teacher.

“My Dad was a full-time fireman in California,” said Preuss, “but he was also a bit of a car guy too. We would often go to tracks like Lions and watch the shows, but when I got into high school, my auto shop teacher was Funny Car driver Gary Densham. That just about did it for me.”

Both Preuss and his father built a Vega, doing a little bit of bracket racing. And with Densham as his teacher, high school drag racing became the thing to do.

After high school graduation, the Preuss family moved to Colorado where construction provided somewhat of a living for the teenage Preuss. However, coming from the car culture rich environment of SoCal, Preuss had dabbled in hand lettering and pinstriping. It was finally time to expand those horizons and get back to his first love; cars. Marrying his high school sweetheart, both he and his new wife Debbie began Bud’s Signs, a busy concern which keeps them quite busy. Two older kids; Michelle (32) and Brett (29) are now out on their own with Brett working with his father in the business. Michelle is married to a military man and currently stationed in Hawaii.

“Once we were married and with kids on the way,” he says, “I traded that Vega for a boat and we went boating. Both Debbie and I had grown up around boats and with kids on the way, it just seemed like the thing to do.”

Two kids, a business and a boat and Preuss was a happy man. Until son Brett turned five-years old and he began racing motocross motorcycles. “I then chased Brett all around the country supporting him as much as we could,” Preuss said. “By the time he was 20, I think he realized he was all broke up and not really making any money so he gave it up. I said, ‘Okay, my turn now.’ ”

Once he had left the sport, Preuss never set foot at a drag strip. “I knew if I went, I’d be hooked again, so I stayed away,” he said. “I had a lot friends who still raced and we did all the sign work at the local track, but I never went to one race ‘cause I knew what would happen.”

It was around 2007, when he finally made the trip back and what a shocker it was. “Man did s—t change since 1984,” he said. “Delay boxes, throttle stops, cars… but it was pretty cool.”

Purchasing a roadster, Preuss was back in the game once again. “Kids were grown, business was good, wife was okay with what I was doing and everything was cool again,” he said.

With a fair share of winning under his belt, a couple of more cars ensued before Preuss met Tim McAmis of Tim McAmis Race Cars. “I was always freaking excited about the Top Sportsman thing but never thought I’d be able to do it,” he says. “Business was looking good and I never thought we’d grow as big as we are, but here we are.”

Finally having McAmis build him a Top Sportsman car might be the penultimate thing in his life. “This was like a ‘pinch me’ type of thing,” he said. “I ordered the car in the summer of ’16 and Tim used the build as part of his video series on building a car. We debuted it at the end of ’16 and ran all of ’17 with the car.”

A runner-up at the Mile High Nationals in Denver last year along with several late round finishes proved he still had what it took to compete. The goal for ’18 was a schedule of both national and Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series divisionals. Opening the season in Pomona, a first round loss to eventual winner Paul Mitsos did little for Preuss’ enthusiasm with the relatively new car. Two weeks later found him in another final round with the win light shining in his opponent’s lane. Still not a bad showing with promising results.

By the time the Vegas Four-Wide national event rolled around, Preuss was ready. Qualifying No. 11 in the 32-car field, Preuss has been as fast as a 6.73 with the car while in the altitude of Vegas, a 6.85 put him on the sheet.

“I did a little bit of homework when we built the car,” he says, “and I wanted to be in the 6.80-6.90 range ‘cause it seemed like the people who were winning were around that number.”

With power from a Matt Driskell-built, a 623-cubic inch all aluminum engine with two stages of nitrous oxide, Preuss said, “Matt has become a good friend and both he and Tim [McAmis] are always there for me. When we built a little more power with the engine, we had to make some four-link adjustments and those guys were only a phone call away whenever I needed them.

“Besides my family, who I’m so happy to have their support,” Preuss adds, “I have to really thank my crew Paulie Schritter and Robert ‘Shep’ Sheppard. Those guys are out there having as much fun as I am.”

A perfect reaction time in the final against Jeff Gillette put an exclamation point on his weekend although Gillette had turned on the red light prior to Preuss leaving the line, handing the win to Preuss.

“That was so neat to see that win light on and Paulie was screaming on the radio to me,” he said. “I can’t even repeat what he said. It was just a special weekend. I’ve won a bunch over the years but this one was pretty special; really special.

“Last year I wanted to finish in the top ten in the world, but we got a little sideways later in the year,” he says. “Now I want to go one step further and win the world championship.”