Olson retires his race program at the end of the 1974 season
Ozzie Olson’s racing involvements were dear to him, and for many reasons…
Ozzie loved business. He loved sports. He loved people. He also loved promoting the business of Olsonite Corporation on a world-wide level in a way which went well beyond the typical print ads available in industry magazines. Racing perfectly coalesced all of these interests. Considering these traits, it is easy to understand why Olson was drawn toward race sponsorship and why the Olsonite team excelled in the sport. From the beginning it was a perfect fit, both personally and professionally. How then does one walk away from such an effort and why?
After 8 successful years of corporate sponsorship, Olson retired his racing program at the end of the 1974 season. The Olsonite Eagle driven by Bobby Unser had just won the USAC National Championship in the midst of a great economic recession which by now had gripped the country. Armed with only these facts, Nay-Sayers may perpetuate the idea that Olson had gone broke. A more positive minded speculator may conclude that after dominating the USAC circuit in 1974, Olson had elected to go out on top. Neither of these suppositions is correct.
So why would a competitor and business owner like Olson relinquish his sponsorship in the midst of such racing success? Why would he retire when he could corporately afford to continue and while the promotional merits were as justifiable as ever? The answer becomes apparent when one considers personal integrity and modeled leadership.
With the onset of the 1974 recession, layoffs and budget cuts became a necessity for businesses across the country. Olsonite Corporation, located in Detroit, was a major supplier to the Automotive and the Building Supply industries. Both of these industries were near depression levels at the time. Like most businesses, workers at Olsonite were being laid off. As the owner, Olson felt compelled to cut his corporate expense and share in the sacrifices alongside of his workers. Consequently, he made the difficult business decision to give up something he greatly loved – his corporate racing sponsorship. He was not comfortable investing in sports while his workers were affected by layoffs. Through it all, Olson understood his priority was the business of Olsonite Corporation and his workers, not the business of racing cars.
The Saturday Evening Post - November, 1976, in reference to Oscar Olson:
“…over the years, if you look closely, it has been the character of the man which stands out.”
Oscar L Olson (1913-1993)
A man who’s handshake forever influenced the racing world…and greater still, the individual lives of those who worked for him. (In reference to the simple handshake agreement Ozzie Olson and Dan Gurney shared for so many years.)