OLSON: KO In The ‘80s

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Kevin Olson.

The other day I read that Kyle Larson is already 27 years old and worth about 12 million dollars, and has been racing open-wheel cars professionally for the past 10 years.

I, on the other hand, am currently in my 50th season of professional open-wheel racing and to my closest recollection (due to the loss of all my legal birth records in the Chicago Fire) I am between 68 and 91.

Not to belittle Kyle or his outstanding career, but I have a personal net worth of just over 13 million Indonesian rupiahs.

I find it hard to believe Kyle is still not just 21 or 22 years old, but time seems to fly by me faster than Sleepy Tripp in a new Danny Lendech-built Autocraft VW.

So, when I think back to my second decade of racing in the 1980’s, it doesn’t seem like 40-some years ago if Kyle can be 27.

The ‘80s decade was a good and bad era for me, as lots seemed to happen to me during those years. And I guess even I am a bit surprised I made it through.

It started out really well, with the birth of my daughter Katie, to be followed by three more, Kevin, Kallie and Kassandra, before 1990 when my youngest daughter, Karoline, was born.

I woke up one day recently and all of a sudden realized that they are now all grown-ups with kids of their own, while I am still trying to win another race and trying to make sure I don’t leave any of those Indonesian rupiahs on the table.

In the ‘80s decade I was so fortunate to be able to race with, and become friends with, so many great drivers and car owners.

I raced with guys like Kenny Schrader, Sleepy Tripp, Jack Hewitt, Rich Vogler, Pancho Carter, Tom Bigelow, Jeff Heywood, Ronnie Shuman, Gary Bettenhausen, Sammy Swindell, Mel Kenyon, Stan Fox, Brent Holden, Chuck Gurney, Billy Englehart, and so many more superstars. There’s too many to even list.

Racing against these guys, I was so lucky to actually win my first of two USAC National Midget Series championships in 1982 driving for my old friend Lee Carey.

Lee and I crossed the country quite a few times over the years heading for races at Ascot or Manzanita, towing our open-trailered race car while drinking a few Coors beers along the way and eating cans of cashews or gas station snacks.

We never missed stopping at the Big Texan in Amarillo to eat a steak and drink beer out of one of their glass cowboy boots. One year we stopped and Gary and Merle Bettenhausen were there. Gary was going to eat the big 72-ounce steak within half an hour to get it free, but quit about halfway through and split it with Merle. Both left plenty full.

From the Big Texan, we always stopped a mile down the road to check out the 10 Cadillacs buried half in the ground along the highway. We always knew the day would come when we could no longer do this together, which finally happened about five years ago when Lee passed away. How I wish I could take that trip one more time.

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