Seneca native Jeff Olson has seen the ups and downs while being involved in the sport of racing stock cars. To some degree, it may be more classified as peaks and valleys.
Back in 2008, Olson hit his peak while competing in the Mid-American Division at the Grundy Speedway when he was declared the track champion that year. Since then, Olson has seen the valley side of the sport as he's tried to balance time with his wife, Whitney, and his son, Race, time under the hood of his car, and time behind the wheel.
Still, racing has been such and integral part of Olson's life, and there was no better time than in 2008 and no greater struggle since.
"Everybody was more on track, I guess, on my team back then. Everyone was helping me and seemed more committed," Olson said of the championship run. "Since I had a kid two years ago, I'm not in it like I used to be. I don't have the ambition to go racing every Friday anymore."
Still, Olson did go out this year with the intention of running for a Mid-American championship before the season started.
"I completely planned on running for points this year but after we had our bad wreck the second night out, it ruined my chances for doing that.," Olson said. "We spent all winter getting the car completely re-done — I mean we re-did everything — then went out and had two bad wrecks. The first night out and then the second night out was a real bad wreck. That one put us down for about a month. If it wasn't for that, we'd still be running for points."
Still, having been at the top of the mountain, Olson knows what it took to get there.
"Back in 2008, everything went well. We were running well. I think we were fast qualifier 12 out of 16 nights or something like that," he said. "We were in the top five every night except for a few and most nights were in the top three. I only won one feature that year but I want to say I was in the top three 10 times."
Olson said that, in addition to the car being in proper shape, its the responsibility of the driver to know when to move and when to stay back on the track.
"If you talk to Kevin Gentile or anyone out at Grundy, when you get into second or third, you can't take a chance of spinning the guy in front of you and then have to go to the back, especially in the class we are running in. It's different in the Late Model where you can get into some of them guys and they are not as easy to spin," Olson said. "Some of the guys we run with, they don't have that kind of car control and you can't take the chance of spinning someone and going to the back when you are running for a championship. So, you have to settle for second and third when you are going for a track championship. It's all about having a good night, set a fast time, do good in your heat race and finish top three in the feature. If you do that, you are going to have a pretty good night points wise. That year it was all about the long goal for me.
"Since then I haven't been back full time. I think next year I'm going to give it one last go full time and see where we go from there. I think there's a chance I may be running my dad's car full time next year and keep my car for a backup. He's got a brand new Mid-Am."
Olson dad, Jim, also has run in limited action this year and he's 21st with 145 points.
"Dad's been running since the early 80s. Back to the smashup derby days out there when they used the whole track out there," Jeff said. "He ran budget bumpers and all that. Then ran Late Model and everything all the way to Mid-Ams all the way until 1998 and hasn't been back full time ever since.
"Together we traveled in the Enduro Series up until 2003 and that's when I went back to Grundy. In '05 I got into Mid-Am. I ran the Midwest Enduro Series from 1999-2003. I was the first thing I ever rode. Dad thought it was a good idea because at the time you had 100 cars your racing against for 250 laps. What better way to get experience. You're around cars, you're passing cars and you are getting laps under your belt."
Then Jeff Olson got into his "baby" and the two took off.
"My first year in Mid-Am, I only ran a couple of times and we did O.K. Then in '06 I ended up winning four features and we had a great season. Dad thought I was ready to move up to the Mid-Ams," he said. "It was a little rocky at first, but my first full season I won four features, set fast time at the Mid-Am Series Show. It was cool because I won my first Mid-Am feature on a Friday night, Mid-Am Series came to town on Sunday and I set fast time. It was my first feature and fast time all in one weekend."
"I wish I never would have gotten rid of that car. An Enduro car is basically a street stock car without the racing suspension. We built it ourselves and sold it to some local people. Then the Mid-Am we did some looking around and dad got talking to Bill Sontag and Brett had one they were building for John Senerchia. It had never gotten finished, so I ended up buying that one. That was the car I raced all the way up till 2009. I sold it and it went to Slinger, Wisconsin. That was my baby, I should never have gotten rid of it. Then I went Late Model racing for a few years and had a few ups and downs with that. I had a bad wreck in 2010 and since then I really hadn't done much since then. I bought this year's Mid Am from Jeff Bezain, a buddy of mine. He had run the car and had some success with it. It's a good car, but not what my old girl was. But we're trying to get it there. The track has changed a lot and for whatever reason, the setup I used to run doesn't seem to want to work in this one."
Olson said that he's spent time in recent years helping other drivers when he can and that he also enjoys it.
"I've been helping Aaron Shelton out there at Grundy the past several years. He's had a lot of great success," Olson said. "I've been having fun helping people just as much as racing lately. Like I said, I'd rather be inside with the little guy (Race) than in the garage.
"It takes a lot, which a lot of people don't understand. It's more than you just see at the track on a Friday night, that's for sure. On a good week, it takes three nights to get the car ready. If you want to run up front, you have to make sure that it's maintained. That's a big thing. When I said that I had more help in 2008, everyone was on board and just about every night we were working on that car. But people go separate ways, that's the way life is."
Olson will be putting his No. 15 back on the track at Grundy again on July 27 for the upcoming feature there.
"We've got the Mid-Am show on July 27th and we're going to focus on that the next couple of weeks rather than running on Friday nights," Olson said. "We're going to do some testing to make sure when we show up there on the 27th we got our A-game on and we're ready to compete for a win."