Marine turned rodeo clown honored as the best ‘Man in the Can’

Marine turned rodeo clown Johnny Dudley and his wife Emily in Las Vegas, where he was honored in December as the best in the business. (Courtesy photo)
Marine turned rodeo clown Johnny Dudley and his wife Emily in Las Vegas, where he was honored in December as the best in the business. (Courtesy photo)(KWTX)
Published: Jan. 3, 2020 at 2:45 PM CST
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Johnny Dudley, who grew up in Groesbeck, joined the Marines and then became a rodeo clown, is the winner of the Coors “Man in the Can” award for 2019.

He was presented with a gold belt buckle during the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association awards in December at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nev.

Dudley, who’s known to fans as “Backflip Johnny” because of the back flips he performs off barrels in rodeo arenas, has provided entertainment at the Heart of Texas Rodeo in Waco for nearly a decade and has been the clown on the dirt for several years at the Bell County Fair and Rodeo in Belton.

“As the curtain falls on the 2019 season, I can’t stop thinking about my beginning in this business,” Dudley said Friday.

“From the first time that I put makeup on, to the day that I received my PRCA card in 2003, to the many times that I watched others win this buckle, to the miles driven and so many nights away from home, this buckle is one that I’ve had dreams about,” he said.

“It’s the one that every rodeo clown dreams about. It’s a gold buckle. The same gold buckle that is given to the world champion cowboys,” he said.

The coveted award came not only with the championship buckle, but also a bronze statue and a $10,000 check and was voted on by Dudley’s peers, including the rodeo announcers, timers, bullfighters and bull riders.

“I honestly never thought that I would have one,” Dudley said.

“I never thought that others really pay attention to the job that I do. I’m kind of a loner. A guy that’s never been the popular guy or surrounded by friends but I’ve always tried to do the best job I could in and out of the arena. I try to treat the guy parking cars as well as I treat the guy that signs my checks.”

Dudley wiped the tears away as he accepted the award last month, thanking his wife, Emily for her support as he spends 250 nights on the road a year with his gig.

“I’m so blessed to have a wife and kids that don’t get too mad when I’m gone 250 nights a year and a family that goes above and beyond to help them get to me even if it takes a 1,000-plus-mile drive for one night,” Dudley said.

Dudley didn’t have much time to relax and celebrate the award.

He participated in a rodeo this past weekend.

His 2020 tour will kick off with a rodeo in two weeks and he’ll work every single weekend until he gets one weekend off in May.

After that, he won’t have another free weekend until after he comes to Waco for the Heart of Texas Fair & Rodeo in October.

He said while the schedule can be grueling the support from his family and the recognition from those that know his work the best make it all worth it.

“Just like in any business it’s nice to be recognized,” Dudley said.

“I don’t care if you’re a janitor or a lawyer; if you’re recognized in your field by your peers, that’s what means the most.”

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