November 2018 Profile : “Backflip” Johnny Dudley — The Man in the Middle

"Backflip" Johnny Dudley and his wife Emily, with their two sons, Jase and Luke. (Photo by Jessica Crabtree)

By Jessica Crabtree

Imagine a career where there are lights, cameras, action and a star-studded number of participants. Think of a large crowd, high-energy music, excitement and the payoff being in laughter and applause. That description fits a significant few who are talented, brave, quick-witted and funny. All of this is done in one arena and describes the man in the middle, the entertainer, the comic relief, the man in the barrel— the rodeo clown.

For rodeo clown and barrel man Johnny Dudley, he was not raised around rodeo or in a rural setting. Dudley was born and raised in the small southeast Texas town of Dayton, east of Houston. “I had a cousin who was a bull rider. From second grade on, all I wanted to be was a bull rider,” Dudley said, although the following year through high school, sports dominated most of his time. After graduation, Dudley made a decision. “In my hometown you either went to college or work at one of the chemical plants.” With no means to pursue college, at 18 Dudley entered the United States Marine Corps.

As a high-schooler, Dudley could remember all four of the military chapters visiting the school; however, it was the Marines that caught his eye or in his words, “looked way cooler.” Dudley entered the Marines in 1996, serving eight years as an air-traffic controller. Recalling the time, Dudley relates the decision as one of his best. Boot camp was in San Diego, Calif., which Dudley described as, “In my platoon there were 72 people. There were people there from all over. Being from the south and a small town, there were a few of us raised with manners, values and ethics. Those who weren’t didn’t have as easy of a time.” Travelling across the United States, stationed in California, Florida and South Carolina, the Marines allowed the then young man the chance to see America early on.

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“Lil Backflip” in the barrel and “Baby Backflip” pushing it. (Photos by Jessica Crabtree)