It is March 1997 my telephone rings and it is I-70 and Lakeside Speedway General Manager Bob Baker on the other end. He proceeds to tell me he is resigning and moving to Texas and he advised then Marketing Director Marc Olson would be taking over as General Manager. Marc would also be giving me a call as I had finished the 1996 season as Competition Director. Marc did call, and we set up an appointment to discuss expectations at the Lenexa office.
Holy Toledo, what a great meeting! Marc laid out his expectations, run a quick show, only have three distinct classes the casual fan would recognize, and remember we are in the entertainment business, you don’t go to 3 and 4-hour movies, that is too long. Those were exactly my sentiments, wow a match made in heaven and as we learned with working with/for Marc over the years, what a great leader. He let people do their jobs, no micromanaging, no public admonishment, if you needed correction or someone had complaints about you, those discussions always happened behind closed doors.
Opening night at I-70 Speedway instantly was a test for us. On this night, John O’Neal was a full straight ahead of the field. Almost everyone’s eyes were glued to the race for second place in the Late Model class. I was standing behind track announcer, the late Great Bob Libbey when I heard him let out the news there was a car upside down sliding down the track, but none of knew who it was or what had happened, until we could not find the leader. It was John O’Neal. The fantastic fire and safety crew at I-70 Speedway rushed into action. Butch Smeltzer was keeping me apprised via the radio when I heard him call for LifeFlight. By this point Marc was with us in the tower and we were looking up the telephone number for LifeFlight. Remember, cell phones still were not that prevalent then. Call made, and Marc and I decided to head to the scene. Once we got to the wreck in turn 2 there was blood and if you know my history with human blood I turned and instantly became crowd control. Marc though got in the mix and ended up holding medical equipment, I think it was the IV, assisting the ambulance crew. What a start to becoming the track General Manager!
February 1999 Marc calls me and ask if I can take him to a golf driving range. At the time there was a range just south of KCI, we met there but no golf when it is below 38 degrees. The real reason for the meeting was Marc asked my opinion on making Lakeside Speedway a dirt track. Fast forward to the 2000 racing season and Marc had made his decision, he was resigning from the General Manager position at both tracks. Owner Ted Carlson asked what would it take to keep Marc employed and Marc said put dirt on Lakeside and he would remain as the Lakeside General Manager only. The rest is history, Lakeside Speedway had 20,000 metric tons of dirt put over the asphalt and the track opened in April with three classes, the Modifieds (no A, B, or E classification), the Grand Nationals (former asphalt Charger class) and the Factory Stocks (3 distinct classes).
In 2002, Marc and his wife Page took the next step they purchased Lakeside from Ted Carlson. This opened the door for the Kosiski family to purchase I-80 a couple of years later.
Marc had a great ability to promote, to know when to make a race special, and when not to over saturate a market. Think of the races under Marc, the annual non-wing Sprint Car race which was part of the CRA and eventually became the Shuman Classic. The trophy was a pedal car which Kansas Speedway copied for their pole qualifying winner. This event was once a year and Marc tied in an annual Oldtimers luncheon to go with and bring together the racing past with the racing current. You could say Marc Olson brought non-wing racing back to the Kansas City area because it has been copied by many. Another event which was copied was the Jayhawk Classic sponsored by McCarthy Autogroup. This modified race was $5,000 to win and $1,000 to start and the first year brought in 88 modifieds. Does that sound familiar the $5,000 to win $1,000 to start, we provided our format (heats, scramble, features) and payouts to Karen Darling so, Central Missouri Speedway could put on what has become their holiday weekend specials. It all started with Marc Olson.
While racing under the NASCAR sanction in 2002, Olson owned Lakeside Speedway experienced a national champion in Kerry Davis driving the Smith’s Grand National in the NASCAR Short Track series and Modified Track Champion Clint Bowyer became the 2002 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Midwest Region champion. Eventually, Olson would pull away from NASCAR and put that money into an outstanding track point fund for the drivers for several years. Then the downturn of 2008 hit and things started sliding backwards, in 2010 the track experienced 14 rainouts, in 2011 the man made flood of the Missouri River, and this kind of heartache drove Marc and Page to get out of this business.
Marc Olson was a leader in the Kansas City racing community. He impacted many in the Kansas City and the surrounding racing markets with his decisions. If you have raced on the dirt at Lakeside Speedway or raced locally in a non-wing Sprint Car, or attended an Oldtimer’s picnic, or you have earned money in a $5,000 to win $1,000 to start race you owe Marc Olson a thank you. Marc was very influential in the Kansas City racing community that is why today we induct him into the Racingkc.com Hall of Fame.