TODD HALE: The Johnny Parsons' story where popcorn and racing go together

Johnny Parsons (Submitted photo)

The name Johnny Parsons is not a strange one for readers that follow the Minnesota/Iowa racing circuit. Johnny lives in Owatonna and the story of his racing career is an interesting one. Parson’s story was specially written for my column by Klane Dushek of Owatonna, a well-known Owatonna auto racing enthusiast and host of “The Dirt Show” radio show which airs beginning in April on three area radio stations including KOWZ FM, KRUE, 92.1 FM, and 1170 AM “THE TRAIN.”

The show features interviews with nationally known racers plus the locals who compete as well.

The following is Klane’s story on Johnny Parsons and his relationship to Owatonna: Imagine growing up literally in the shadow of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Johnny Parsons III, who now calls Owatonna home, did just that. He grew up in Speedway, a suburb of Indianapolis, Indiana, mere blocks from the historic speedway. Can you imagine what it was like for a young boy to walk out into his father’s garage and be greeted by men named Bettenhausen, Dallenback and Rice? This was a typical morning at the Parson home in Indiana. Johnny’s grandfather, Johnnie Parsons, won the 1950 Indy 500 and was a very accomplished midget, sprint car and Indy car driver. Johnny Parsons III began racing quarter midgets in the early 70’s which transitioned into midgets. He raced midgets at the 16th Street Speedway in Indianapolis. He ran the very first Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1987 with his father (12-time Indy 500 veteran Johnny Parsons Jr.). He won a midget race in Davenport, Ia. in the mid-nineties, exactly 50 years after his grandfather had won a midget race at that same track in the 1940’s.

Johnny earned a mechanical engineering degree and a job opportunity at SPX which landed him in Owatonna. Racing in southern Minnesota was a whole new world for this Indiana native. All of the sprint cars here had wings! The ASCS and Wissota sprint car series both ran winged classes only. This was completely new!

The marriage to Gina Buryska

Owatonna girl Gina Buryska came into Johnny’s life about this time. Many of you have a story about the Buryska Popcorn Farm, which was located at the end of East Vine near the Gandy Co. (The mini-corn crib from the popcorn farm is preserved at the Steele County Historical Society Village of Yesteryear next to the farm machinery building.) Johnny and Gina were married while he was slowly adapting racing winged sprint cars. Then the idea came about to race sprint cars in Minnesota and Wisconsin without wings. It certainly was a money saving idea and Johnny was on board from the start. Having been around these cars for more than 25 years, he was a wealth of knowledge for area racers and promoters.

Johnny has raced here in Owatonna, at the Chateau Speedway, Deer Creek Speedway, Cedar Lake Speedway, Ogilvie Raceway, Princeton Speedway, North Central Speedway, Rice Lake Speedway, St. Croix Valley Speedway, Jackson Motorplex and many more. This season Johnny Parsons III won the 2019 Mastell Brothers touring series championship and he also finished second in the 2019 NSL non-wing hitch Doc sprint car division at the Jackson Motorplex. He has now spent most of his life in Owatonna and has made lifelong friends with Harvey and Sharon West, Glen and Gregg Anderson, Jim and Kevin Wanous, Klane and Roger Dushek, Gary and Charlene Wolff, Brian and Mike Madsen and many more. He headquarters out of his home garage in Owatonna and lives in a home that was built on part of wife Gina’s family popcorn farm.

Recently Johnny was presented with trophies, a plaque, banner and Hoosier championship jacket at the Fairmont Holiday Inn.

Parsons worked for some time at SPX in Owatonna and is now employed at QA1 Racing Shocks in Lakeville, Minnesota.

New pastor at First Baptist

There’s a new pastor serving First Baptist Church in Owatonna. She is Rev. Carla Nelson. Rev. Nelson was organized at the Christian Church Disciples of Christ in 2006. She has served since that time at Ollie and Henrick, Iowa. Rev. Nelson lives with her husband in Rochester where he is employed at Mayo. The couple has three children, two in Rochester and one in Iowa. Pastor Nelson is looking forward to serving First Baptist and meeting new friends from Owatonna.

James Lundgren farewell reception

The Steele County Historical Society will host a reception on December 2 at 4:30 p.m. for James Lundgren who has served as Director of the SCHS for the past two years and is now leaving for a new job in Missouri. Public is invited.

OHS winter musical announced

The winter musical production at Owatonna High School will be “Once Upon a Mattress”, which is based on the story “Princess and the Pea”. Production dates are in late February.

761 Foundation officers elected

The Owatonna School District 761 Foundation recently elected officers for the new year. All were re-elected including Bruce Paulson as chair, Jan Mittlestadt Tippett, vice-chair, Greg Stroik, treasurer and Mary Larson, secretary. The Foundation has awarded nearly $3.5 million for programs and scholarships since its inception. Its goal has been, and still is, to provide resources for programs not funded by tax dollars and to provide for post-secondary scholarships.

Holiday happenings begin

Now that Thanksgiving is past, holidays activities in Owatonna begin in earnest over the next few weeks. To assist you good readers, here is a rundown by date of holiday happenings in the next week:

Thursday, December 5: A day filled with holiday activities beginning at 3:00 p.m. when the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train makes a stop in Owatonna. The train will stop at the Park Drive crossing next to the Owatonna Bus Company. Musical performances by train performers will begin around 3:45 preceded by local performers at 3:00 p.m. Vehicles will not be allowed to enter Park Drive from old Highway 14. The only exception will be vehicles with handicapped passengers and Owatonna Bus Co. vehicles finishing their routes. Parking will be available at Lowes and Wal-Mart parking lots. Bus service will be provided to the train site. returning at the end of the show. This is an event to collect funds and non-perishable foods for the Steele County Food Shelf, so bring food items with you.

Thursday, December 5: “Frosting the Holidays”, 3:00-5:00 p.m. at the Kitchen Restaurant. This is a cookie frosting event open to the public.

Thursday, December 5: Lighted Holiday Parade on Cedar Ave beginning at 6:00 p.m. Parade ends in Central Park with music by the OHS Christmas Carolers.

Thursday, December 5: Free Chili supper served at First Baptist Church from 5:00-7:00 p.m.

Thursday, December 5: Holiday concert by the new Owatonna Chorale at First Baptist Church at 7:00 p.m.

Friday, December 6: 4:30-8:00 p.m. “Christmas in the Village” sponsored by Jeanette Homuth at Village of Yesteryear.

Friday, December 6: Soup Supper sponsored by Rocon, 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Friday, December 6: 6 pm.: Festival of Trees, at Holiday Inn. A new format this year. Besides viewing the trees, Spontaneous Productions presents a comedy show at 8:00 p.m. Trees can be viewed on December 7 and 8 as well.

Saturday, December 7: 10:00-2:00: Christmas in the Village at Village of Yesteryear.

Saturday, December 7: Steele County 4-H “Shopping with Santa” takes place from 7 a.m. to noon at St. John Lutheran Church. This is for children four to six years of age. Treats available for purchase.

Head to Havana

You’ll want to enjoy the Havana Light Drive-thru Christmas Light Display. It’s located east of Highway 218 on Havana Road. It’s free, however free will donations will go to Helping Paws of Southern Minnesota. See the website at

SCHS Holiday Home Tour

The Steele County Historical Society Holiday Home Tour will be held on December 8 from noon-5:00. Homes to be toured this year include those of Kathy Purdie, 177 Franklin, Steve and Karen Graff, 2 Augusta Place, Kerri Kuhn, 1005 Cotter Place N.E., Kory and Melissa Kath, 2112 Harbour Oak Dr, Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Litomysl, 9946 S.E. 24th Ave, Rich and Suzanne Dotta, 9925 S.E. 24th (across from Litomysl), and The Dunnell House and Saco Church in the Village of Yesteryear.

Holiday outdoor lights

You can now drive by the home of Rod and Amy Baker at 421 Murray to view the unique Christmas display which has been created with today’s technology by 10th grader Nolan Baker. Enjoy the holiday music by tuning your FM car radio to the frequency indicated on a sign by the display and watch the dancing lights. Two other homes have joined Nolan in his holiday project including those of Jeff Lenser and Becky Wilker two doors east of the Baker house and Ryan and Brittni Ferch at 1014 Lincoln. The displays will continue until New Year’s Day. Hours are Sunday-Thursday from 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. and until midnight on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.

Remembering special outdoor displays

Holiday time sparks my memory of the two locations of holiday outdoor displays that attracted onlookers from every part of Owatonna as well as from other southern Minnesota towns. Neighbors on both Woodridge Place and Ridge Road gathered together each year to produce this unique holiday display. I’ve written about them before, but a quick review is again due this year. Woodridge Place is a small cul-de-sac on top of the Elm Street Hill in N.E. Owatonna. Marilyn Schroeder still lives in her home on Woodridge. She and husband Clem were among the originals who created the display. There were six families who created the lighting display back in 1958. I reminisced with Marilyn some years ago. “The idea came one night at a neighborhood deer steak cookout. Someone suggested that we put up an outdoor display for Owatonnans to enjoy.” Marilyn said. “It just kind of took off from there. First, we were going to put the display on the ground, but that meant that cords for the lights would have to go across driveways, so we decided on rooftops.” That plan created some problems too, according to Marilyn. “I can remember one time when a light bulb was burned out on the string crossing from one house to another. The only way to get at it was to have several people hold a ladder upright and one brave soul climbed up and changed the bulb. The ladder rested against nothing….it was just sticking up in the air anchored by some strong neighbors at ground level.”

The original families involved included the Gordon Kinneys, Syl Kosmoskis, Wayne Potters, Cliff Wards and Norman Goertz. Eventually the number of participants increased including those of the Don Humphreys, Jim Olanders, Joe Betlachs, Herb Johnsons, Albert Andersons and the Dick Habermans. Marilyn said, “The first year we had 12 houses we put up the display of the 12 days of Christmas. Other themes used over the years included Santa’s Workshop, Christmas Silhouettes (Biblical theme), Spray Painted Trees, Old Fashioned Christmas and one involving stars.”

Marilyn went on, “It took a lot of planning and every year things got a more intricate and complicated. Residents knew that their privacy was going to be relinquished. Cars were bumper to bumper from the time the lights went on each night. I can remember the first year there was no blacktop on the road and rain and snow hit when we opened the display. Cars would drive in a get stuck and had to be towed out! We also had to sweat out the weather. The rain would make cardboard shrivel and paint run and ice would often topple some of the figures.”

The energy crunch in 1973 brought the lighting extravaganza on Woodridge Place to an end. “It never got going again,” Marilyn said. “We lost a lot of the original neighbors due to moves and none of us left were getting any younger. It took a lot of energy to put this on.”

I know the Hale family was among the thousands of folks who looked forward to, and enjoyed the Woodridge Place Christmas display. It represented the way neighborhoods used to be before everyone became so busy that they couldn’t take time to do things together. The neighbors on Woodridge Place truly gave us a genuine Christmas present for 15 years! Next week, the Ridge Road story.


Klement Simon of Owatonna reaches 100 years young on December 15. Mark on your calendars an open house for Klem at Ecumen Brooks from 2:00-4:00 p.m. on December 15. Klem was born in Owatonna, was an Army Air Corps veteran of WWII and worked at Jostens. He was a grandson of one of the early Czech settlers in Steele County. (1867)

Joke of the week

Two regulars are sitting at a bar when one of them casually points to a couple of drunks across from them. “That’s us in 10 years,” he says. His friend takes a sip from his beer, sets it down on the bar, turns to his friend and slurs, “That’s a mirror.”

Finally, Christmas card season is upon us. Get your relatives speaking to one another again by sending a heartfelt Christmas card with a photo of your family with an extra child nobody knows!

Todd Hale can be reached at or write him at 632 14th St. S.E. Phone contact is 507-456-7304.

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