OLSON: The Prairie 500

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Kevin Olson
Kevin Olson

When I first started racing midgets back in 1970, USAC had a minimum age rule of 21 years of age that they strictly enforced. Badger midgets had a minimum age rule of 18, but to run at that age you had to sign a release.

So, for a guy like me, 18 and wanting to go run USAC without any previous experience, it came down to assuming that the USAC director, Shim Malone, would just look the other way (a lot like the local liquor stores around my hometown of Rockford, Ill., would do).

However, when I tried to run my first USAC race for George McBeth on the Springfield Mile, somehow Shim didn’t see it that way and demanded a birth certificate.

I tried to type one up quickly at the library, but nothing worked and I sat out the race. So, back then it was important to lie about your age. Also, unlike today’s cars, which require hardly any learning curve to drive, cars were so ill-handling and dangerous that it took about two-to-three years of experience before you could really run up front or keep from turning over every night.

The car owners back then were skeptical to hire someone 21 or younger. They were looking for a guy probably 25-30 years old who knew what he was doing.

As time went on and I got to be over 35, I had to go the other way with the age, as the owners were figuring that you were getting too old to run hard and stuck with guys
a little younger.

Thank God for guys like Denny Lamers, Jerry Hardy, Donnie Kleven and so many others who were able to give a real old racer a chance to win again. Finally, the age deal went full circle when I got to be 65 and I added years onto my age for the chance for a car owner to be in the Book of World Records for having the oldest man in history win a race in their car.

I won my last race at Sun Prairie in 1998, winning the Pepsi Nationals for the second year in a row and the fifth of my career for Denny Lamers.

I had won a couple of other Badger races at other tracks up until the year 2000. But, after my last win at Hales Corners in 2000 my career went into a real win drought.

Although I came close many times in the next couple of decades, including getting beat by .011 of a second, there were no trophy girls or money for me.

For the next two decades it bothered me that I wasn’t able to win one more race at Angell Park in Sun Prairie where it all started for me. I was determined to keep trying, even if I was 95. I don’t think too many days went by during this time that I didn’t think about that big night when I would finally win again and could retire with a smile on my face.

But, it didn’t give me a lot of confidence when almost everyone I knew reminded me that I was washed up and too old and should just retire. I think most just didn’t want to see me bust my ass again and have to send me get well cards in the hospital.

After the end of the first decade of the new century of not winning the Prairie, I thought I would make a change and moved to the Spahn Ranch in California, and found a ride in Sonny Nutter’s midget to race in Ventura.

Then I decided to start another career in Hollywood. However, my audition as a hand model was cut short when I was seen picking my nose and escorted out of the studio. Later that day, I lost my ride in the midget as Sonny traded it to Sleepy Tripp for a speedway bike he ran at Orange County Fairgrounds.

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