Kevin Olson, one of the greatest car racers to ever come out of Rockford, died Friday night from injuries sustained in a car crash in Janesville, Wisconsin. He was 70 years old.
His family confirmed his death on Facebook. His wife Nancy remains in critical condition in hospital.
Olson is a member of the United States Auto Club Hall of Fame and a two-time USAC Midget Champion and five-time Badger Midget Auto Racing Association (BMARA) Champion.
Local racer David Gough switched from go-karts to midget cars in 1997 due to Olson’s influence.
“Kevin was by far the most iconic race car driver to ever come out of Rockford,” Gough said. “He’s a Midget racing legend. Even in Australia and New Zealand, where he used to travel back in the day, everyone knows who Kevin Olson is. He’s always been someone to who you wanted to talk to wherever you went.
“My dad was friends with him. That’s how I got interested in Midget racing. He used to take me to Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie to watch Kevin. Kevin was always a prankster. He had some sort of scheme going on. the hour. T-shirts or stink bombs in the restroom after the race. He was always up to something.”
From archive:Driver Kevin Olson continues to race
Olson has won 47 races at Angell Park Speedway, the last in 2019 at age 68.
BMARA called Olson “a larger-than-life individual” in a tribute story on its website, noting that he was “known for his silly antics, quick wit and quirky humor.” Olson even wrote about many of his best pranks in a book: “Cages are for the Monkeys: Unleashed with Racing’s Hall of Famer Kevin Olson.”
Olson liked to joke, but he was always serious about the race, according to former rival Joe Corrigan of Loves Park.
“What I remember of Kevin is that everyone loved him,” Corrigan said. “On the track he was relentless, but off the track that didn’t matter to him anymore.
“There were two sides to Kevin. There was this fun side, but there was also a very serious side. Racing was his passion. When something is your passion, that’s all you want to do. his life was centered around racing.”
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Olson started racing for Corrigan’s father, Lyle, in the 1970s and later raced against Lyle’s two sons, Roger and Joe, in the 1980s.
“When he was racing back then,” Joe Corrigan said, “all the guys that were racing against him, they were all lying to each other and going, ‘Oh, I’m not going to race there. This race means nothing. But they would all show up there because it was good competition.”
Olson raced for 51 years and was inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1997 and the United State Auto Club Hall of Fame in 2016.
Matt Trowbridge: firstname.lastname@example.org; @matttrowbridge