Bud Sullivan, Outboard Winner
May 9, 2023 - 3:25pm
The three Seattle Outboard Association 1955 Nationals winners (run at Devils Lake, Oregon) that were mentored by Al Benson, and photographed by Bob Miller (Seattle Times newspaper staff photographer). They are (L-R): Billy Schumacher (AU & JU Runabout classes), Bud (Art) Sullivan (D Stock Hydro class) and Don Benson (A Stock Hydro class). The boat standing on end behind them is Bud Sullivan’s D Stock Hydro. This photo, taken at Ward’s Resort in Kenmore, Washington, was on the cover of a number of prominent boat racing magazines in color.
By Craig Fjarlie
Art “Bud” Sullivan was a winner in Stock Outboard racing during the 1950s. Among his accomplishments were an overall victory in the Sammamish Slough marathon race, and taking the National Championship in D Stock Hydro, in 1955.
Sullivan was born in Seattle in 1934, and graduated from Roosevelt High School.
The early 1950s was a time of hydromania in Seattle. As a teenager, Sullivan watched the Sammamish Slough races. “I grew up near the lake. My best buddy lived across the street from the lake,” he remembers. “It was just something that we got hooked on.”
Bud Sullivan about to dunk in a crowded field at Osoyoos Lake. Jim Benson wrote, “There is a funny story related to the start photo with Bud in the foreground. Hugh Entrop is in the middle of the pack. But you can see a wake ahead of these guys. Ed Karelsen told me it was him, and that the only way he could beat Entrop was to jump the gun. I don’t know what happened to Sullivan after sticking his nose in the drink.” Photo by Bob Carver, courtesy of Bill Carver.
Sullivan built his first boat, a runabout, as a project for a high school woodshop class. “I was 17; drew up plans because that’s what the woodshop teacher required. I had to come in with full scale plans or they wouldn’t let me do it,” he explains. “The teacher had too many race boats that were started and nobody finished.” Sullivan entered his boat in the 1953 Sammamish Slough race. “We had some old opposed Evinrudes like the C Service guys run now. Can’t keep them running,” he admits, shaking his head and laughing.
He quickly moved up to D Stock Hydro and D Stock Runabout. “Then we were running open exhaust with the F guys.” He used the Mark 40H and KG-9 Mercury engines. “I had a sponsor for a couple of years, and they bought one of them, and the other one I bought from my good buddy who at the time had started an outboard shop and he was selling used boats and motors,” Sullivan says. “He got this KG-9 that was on a fishing boat in Puget Sound. I thought it would be a good idea to take the powerhead and put it on a Quicksilver (lower unit). That was my fastest engine.”
Sullivan ran closed course races in 1954. The following year, he entered the Sammamish Slough race in the Unlimited Hydro class. He won the upriver heat, with Bill Farr in second place. On the downhill run, Farr finished first with Sullivan a boat length behind. They were tied in points, but Sullivan was the overall winner on the basis of having the fastest time. Al Karelsen was third. “That year we finished in Bothell instead of down on the lake,” Sullivan recalls. “When I started watching them in the early years, they used to start down the lake (Lake Washington – Ed.) and run all the way up. The lake was always rough.” He reflects on the hazards in the Slough. “We had trees hanging over and everything. But it was a lot of fun. We didn’t know any different, so we thought that was great.”
This photo was taken by Bob Miller (Seattle Times newspaper staff photographer) just before the finish of the 1955 Slough Race where Bud Sullivan was second on the downriver run. He was first overall because his upriver win was quicker than Bill Farr’s downriver win. Both had first and second place finishes.
Later that season, the Stock Outboard Nationals were held on Devils Lake, Oregon. “My hydro had been run over in the PRO Nationals at Pasco, Washington, the year before,” Sullivan says. “I went to Spokane, bought it as is, and patched it back together. It was a Swift. It was owned by a fellow in Spokane, and the driver was a fellow from Spokane’s Air Force base, but I don’t remember the names. Everybody was running Swifts except for the cabovers that Hugh Entrop would build. He’d build one a year, then he’d sell the one he ran that year; then in the winter, he’d build the next one.” Sullivan adds a note of historical interest about the boats Entrop built. “You know, that led to the first cabover Unlimited. Everybody back then knows that. That was Thriftway Too.”
Peggy Batie presented Bud Sullivan his winning Unlimited Class trophy for the 1955 Slough Race at the Bothell, Washington, finish line. Al Benson was race chairman. Photo by Bob Miller, Seattle Times newspaper staff photographer.
Careful driving was a component in Sullivan’s win in the D Stock Hydro class at the 1955 Stock Outboard Nationals. “I remember it was windy,” he says. “It was a mile and two-thirds course which we never ran on. We always ran on mile courses. You had to be careful because of the wind coming off the ocean. We started 16 boats and I think by the time we re-started there were only about 11 of us left.” A number of boats were damaged because of blowover accidents. “It was hard, it was really hard,” he adds, when asked what it was like dealing with so many boats. “Some of the guys who were in that heat were Burt Ross, Hugh Entrop, Bob Waite, and Bill Farr. Looking back, it was kind of a miracle. I was second in both heats, but I came out with the most points.”
Bud Sullivan spins out, location unknown. Photo by Bob Carver, courtesy of Bill Carver.
Seattle trophy winners at the 1955 Stock Nationals. Left to right in front: Bud Sullivan, Ginny Lea Lyford, Chuck Lyford, Billy Schumacher, Don Benson. Back row: Dick Brunes and Johnny Sangster. Bob Carver photo courtesy of Bill Carver.
Sullivan had to set aside his racing equipment for most of the 1956 season. “I hardly raced at all. I was building a new house for my family. I came back and ran some in 1957. I had my eye on an Unlimited ride, but I had a wife who said, ‘I don’t think so.’ She said, ‘I have three little boys to raise.’”
Sullivan concentrated on closed course racing. He liked Green Lake in Seattle, and also drove at Silver Lake in Everett, Moses Lake, and Oroville in eastern Washington. He did try the Slough race again. “It wasn’t good,” he admits. “Your reaction time isn’t the same. I went up on the beach.” Fortunately, he avoided injury. Sullivan ran the Slough event in 1960 and finished third in F Outboard Hydro.
A separate event on the Sammamish Slough was the annual water ski race. Sullivan used his hydro to tow Seattle dentist Dr. Lou West, who was a champion water skier. They won the water ski event three years in a row: 1959, 1960, and 1961. “It’s different pulling water skiers, because the water skier holds you in the turns,” Sullivan explains. “You can run through there wide open, because he holds you.” They sat out the 1962 water ski race, but came back for the final time in 1963 and notched a fourth victory.
At that point, Sullivan knew it was time to retire from racing. “It’s hard to walk away when you get the bug in this,” he says. “I lived in Kenmore, right where we used to start the Slough race. What I would do on Slough race day, I’d pack up the family and leave. As soon as those things would fire up, I’d get the bug again.”
The bug is still there. In April of this year, when Seattle Outboard Association held its Slough race exhibition, Sullivan was in the pits, visiting with friends. He spent a considerable amount of time conversing with Dave Culley, a three-time Slough champion and successful Unlimited hydroplane crew chief. As the public address announcer told the crowd of spectators, “We’re here because this is our family.” Sullivan would agree.
Bud towing Dr. Lou West in the Sammamish Slough Water Ski race. Photo by Bob Carver, courtesy of Bill Carver.