Bud Watson always wanted to be a baker, a short-order cook.
Instead, he and his partner Mike Woolford have become the area's largest dealer of racing tires. They own and operate W & W Racing Tires in Finksburg and sell racing components, tires and fuel for dragsters and stock cars.
Watson started in racing by accident. His children were more interested then he was and often went to the races with Woolford and his wife, Cookie. Occasionally, Bud and his wife, Carol, would attend butdid not become interested in racing.
One day in the mid-1960s at Hagerstown Speedway in Washington County, the Watsons were in the stands watching Woolford race. Woolford's pit crew, Al and Wayne Shawver, had joined the Navy and left the driver short-handed. Carol suggested that Bud give Woolford a hand, and he has been in the pits ever since.
The two men, who are cousins, began to work as a team and raced at Trail-Wayand Lincoln speedways in Pennsylvania and Hagerstown every weekend. Like most racers, they were always looking for ways to save money.
They began by looking into purchasing tires in bulk and, after checking several sources, found they had to buy more than they needed. Instead of buying 10 or 20 tires, they had to buy 50, so they purchased the tires and kept several for their car while selling the rest.
Bud Watson and Mike Woolford were in the tire business.
Woolford continued racing while they sold tires. As business increased, the two men had to make a choice between racing or selling tires. They believed trying to do both could be bad for business, especially if Woolford happened to have a mishap on the track with one of the customers. Since selling tires is more lucrative than racing, they sold their car.
At the time, both men were working for the Eyring & Sons Construction Co. -- Woolford as superintendent and Watson as project manager. Woolford left first in 1976 to run the new business and Watson followed three years later.
The business grew and eventually expanded to include tire and auto service for the passenger car.Woolford operates the domestic side of the business on Baltimore Boulevard and Watson keeps the racing portion running on Industrial Drive.
The racing business is not an easy way to make a living. As with most sports, the seasons are longer than ever, starting in Februaryand ending in November. For 10 months, the Watsons work seven days aweek. Every weekend is spent at a track selling and changing tires. Watson may change more than 30 tires in a couple hours during the racing program.
Carol Watson has become very active in the business. She often takes a tire truck to one track while her husband works another.
On a typical weekend, Bud Watson will have dealers providingasphalt tires for Langley, Southside and Old Dominion Speedways in Virginia. He has a fleet of trucks that services Lincoln, Hagerstown, Susquehanna, Winchester, Potomac and Bedford speedways, dirt tracks in the tri-state area of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
During the week, Watson and his crew are selling tires to the drag racer and sports car competitor.
Bud has four full-time and four part-time employees who keep the shop going during the week and the trucks going on weekends. The long weekend hours make it difficult at times tofind help.
During the off-season, Watson attends banquets and trade shows and tests tires.
Watson Bud has seen a lot of changes in racing.
"When we raced, we did everything to the race car," said Watson. "Mike did it all and I helped. We made every part of the car.
"Today everything is brought. The driver buys the chassis and all the parts from the factory. We made everything in the older days. Itmade me feel proud when we raced the car."
Tires have changed a lot, too, since they went into business.
"Our first purchase was 50recap tires from Hoosier," recalled Watson. "The tires weighed 50 pounds and the cars needed strong suspension to run them."
Today thetires weigh about 24 pounds and more engineering goes into their manufacture. New compounds are being made all the time.
"To gain thatedge in performance, tire manufacturers are looking to make the tirequicker through the turns. To get into the turn, handle through the middle of the turn and get off of the turn without breaking the car loose," explained Bud.
In addition to selling Hoosier tires for dirt and asphalt tracks, W & W sells Goodyear and Firestone drag tires to most of the racers in Carroll County. He also carries tires for sports cars.
Drivers often seek Watson for advice on what tire to use during the race. Several compounds are used on dirt tracks, ranging fromsoft to hard compounds. The compound selected depends on the racing surface and how much heat is generated in the tire.
In asphalt racing, the same compound is used, eliminating the decisions that dirt racers have to make.
Both asphalt and dirt tires cost around $130, and a well-financed team will use 80 tires a year. The average team will use 40-60 tires.
Last year was the best year for WT&TW Racing Tires,which claims to be the the sixth largest dealer in the country. Watson, 59, is still going strong.
"I have met the best people in racing," said Watson. "I know I would have never met them anywhere else."