OLSON: It Was In The ‘70s

Kevin Olson

With just days left in this Twilight Zone year of 2020, I start my second month of recovery from my fatal accident resulting from the attack of the killer tree branch.

I have been spending a lot of my down time trying to keep busy. I found a job I am able to do at home on the couch as a strawberry de-seeder.

It’s nice work but, with the strawberry season coming to a close, I will soon be done de-seeding. Also, too much television can be bad. I don’t know about you, but I hate Joe Namath these days and I now refuse to buy any supplemental medical insurance, no matter how far I fall.

Right now, it looks like my Chili Bowl appearance will have to be postponed until 2022, but I am announcing that I will be starting my farewell tour this summer, as I should be 100 percent healed by then. Lying around, I’ve also had a lot of time to reminisce.

I’ve been thinking about the “good old days” of pre-2020 and how fortunate I was to be involved in racing, especially in the early 1970’s when I first started racing. I think about all the great racers that ran back in the time before racing got so complicated with all the money and corporate bull involved today.

For me, the ‘70s was a decade of learning and getting to know some of the great and not-so-great racers of the day. Things were so much simpler back then. Guys still worked on their own cars. And independent guys with a regular job could compete and win with their building skills, mechanical skills, and lots of help from friends coming over to work out of their small garages at home three nights a week.

We towed with our cars, station wagons, and pickup trucks on an open trailer. Gas was as low as 19 cents a gallon during gas wars. Lots of guys towed with pickup trucks with campers on the back, and that was about as luxurious as it got. The first time I saw Doug Caruthers towing his open trailer they called the Queen Mary, my jaw dropped. I had never seen anything so cool in my whole life.

My ‘63 Chevy Bel Air station wagon had a trailer hitch on the rear bumper and no special shocks, springs, or air conditioning. It had an AM radio on which we listened to WLS in Chicago and Larry Lujak doing Animal Stories. On clear nights we could sometimes get Wolfman Jack on some western stations.

No CD’s, internet, sound systems. No TV on your phone, etc. Just a plain old one-speaker AM radio, and we survived. With no air conditioning, when it got hot we hand-rolled down the windows for fresh air.

The race cars were pretty basic back then. You probably had bought one from either Howard Linne in Mendota, Illinois; Johnny Pawl in Crown Point, Indiana; or Don Kenyon in Lebanon, Indiana; or you built it yourself. Cages were optional my first couple of years. You probably had a Sesco, Chevy 2, Offy, or built your own engine.

You could probably rebuild one yourself and not spend over a couple hundred bucks buying almost everything at an auto parts store. USAC made us have our axles, spindles, hubs, etc. magnafluxed every year before you could run, and I always made the trek down to Chillicothe, Illinois to have Barney Flynn run his purple light over all my parts while trying to avoid his little dog that usually bit me. Barney had the first Ford head on a Sesco that I ever saw, and my buddy Leo Dugo ran it for him back then.

When I first started racing, everyone wore an open-face Bell helmet and mostly Hinchman uniforms, with little or no obnoxious advertising on them. Drivers always took pictures of themselves sitting in the cockpit of the car looking back over the left rear tire. Red STP, yellow Bardahl or Wynn’s Friction Proofing jackets were the fashion of the day, and if you were really cool you wore Kangaroo skin black boxing boots. I remember Spike Gillespie and Danny Frye Jr. wearing a pair when we ran the Daytona Memorial Stadium.


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