Tucked away in the corner of Bud Matson’s hilltop home is a small sign that reads, “It’s nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice.”
This motto sums up Matson, 79, whose humble and genuine personality took him through many twists and turns in his life.
From racing down the speedways with NASCAR for 22 years, heading down the wedding aisle four times, zooming off runways in his private planes, driving down the streets of the Rim Country to his rental properties or volunteering as a pooper-scooper at the Payson Off-Leash Dog Park, Matson has done it all and with a smile on his face.
“He is always happy, natural and outgoing,” said Matson’s wife Lee.
“He is someone people like instantly,” friend Dick Norton added last Wednesday at the Matson home.
You only have to look through Matson’s handful of scrapbooks from his racing days to piece together a life filled with near-death experiences, high speeds, trophy girls and fun.
One newspaper clipping states that Matson had already flipped his midget car 26 times and driven through four protective walls.
Another states that during his racing baptism in Berea, Ohio at age 17, he passed seven cars during the opening seconds of the race during a dust storm.
He finished the race high enough to earn his first racing dollar.
“This is just one of the incidents keeping fans on the edge of their seats,” the paper states.
However, Matson said it was not for the fame that he got involved in racing. He said a simple ad in the paper asking for drivers caught his attention.
“They asked you to bring out your ’34 Ford and they would pay you good money, well I thought, I can do that, I can turn left,” he said. So, Matson headed down to the track at 17 and was hooked.
In 1949, after attending college in Detroit, Matson won his first feature event in a 1934 coupe at the Parkington Pastures Speedway. From there, he raced full time for seven years.
He won four features and placed 12th in the national point standings during his more than 20-year career in racing and NASCAR.
When not racing, Matson owned and managed multiple businesses including a ranch, motel and welding shop.
When he grew bored of a certain job, he would move on and start again, but racing was always in the back of his mind.
He said he ultimately stopped racing after 13 of his closest friends were either severely hurt or killed while racing. Matson recalled a race on a Pennsylvania circle track where the sun blinded nearly everyone in the field and a 41-car pileup ensued. Matson barely made it around the wreck by weaving in and out of tumbling and flipping cars.
“The race cars back then were not safe cars,” Norton said, “In those days they were solid, so there was no decimating of energy.”
Matson was never seriously injured in a race — except when he broke his neck, a few ribs and received a few burns.
“The cars got totally ripped apart,” he said during a crash.
During one race, Matson nearly killed a photographer when his car went careening off the track where the photographer was standing. The man was thrown on the hood of the car, but escaped serious injury.
A short while after deciding to leave the sport to pursue safer hobbies, Matson said he was thrown right back into the racing seat.
While on a shopping trip to Home Depot, Matson passed a racetrack and had to stop.
When he entered the track, several people recognized him and asked him to race, giving him a ride and equipment to use.
After completing the race, Matson said he went on to Home Depot, got what he needed and headed home.
“That’s how you make a wife mad,” he joked.
Today, Matson is officially retired from the sport and flying after losing most of hearing from racing.
“You were deaf for several hours after a race,” he said because you were not wearing hearing protection.
With his competitive spirit, Lee said Bud would go back to racing if he could.
Regarding NASCAR, Matson said he does not watch much of it because the sport has changed too much from the early days.
“They got radios in cars today, the pit crew used to hold up a sign for you,” he said.
“It is different today.
You can find Matson, twice a day every day down at Payson’s dog park picking up poop and raking with his beloved dogs Sassy and Bear at his side.
He started volunteering at the park shortly after moving to Payson five years ago and said just Wednesday he raked 50 yards.
“He never stops working,” Lee said. “But he is always smiling.”
An excerpt from Edward J. Doherty’s poem “Ode to a Racing Man” —
Here’s to you, the Racing Man —
May you over live life’s span.
Whether owner, driver, crew —
You’re important, they need YOU.
When your car is on that track —
YOU are the guy they came to see.
The season’s drawing to a close —
Soon we’ll trudge thru winter snow.
’Tis then we’ll sit around the stove
And tell tall tales of how we drove.
The ones we should have won, but lost —
The parts, the labor and the cost.