March 2018, Vol. 245, No. 3


Part 1: Racing and ILI Make Odd Companions

“Each one of us must make his own path through life. There are no self-help manuals, no formulas, no easy answers. The right road for one is the wrong road for another … The journey of life is not paved in blacktop; it is not brightly lit, and it has no road signs. It is a rocky path through the wilderness.” (M. Scott Peck)

P&GJ spoke with Entegras’ Mark Olson about his unique passion for Indy Car racing, in-line inspection and the road less traveled.

P&GJ: What prompted you to decide on a career in the energy industry, particularly the inline inspection business?

Olson: Every good story starts with a girl. Graduating from Washington State University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, I only interviewed with companies in the San Francisco area (locale of said girlfriend). I took a job with Chevron Pipe Line Company as a project engineer.

After a year or so, I moved to Chevron’s southwestern business unit office in the Woodlands and spent several years working on a variety of major storage tank maintenance projects.

Eventually, I took a severance package to chase my dream of owning a motorcycle shop and racing professionally. However, in the interim, I took a job with a small pipeline engineering consulting firm. Then in 1996, I opened “South Kitsap Superbikes & Specialty Cycles.” (Yes, I know that that’s a terrible name … sounded like a good idea at the time!)

After a year of working 100-hour weeks and not having any time or money left to pursue my own racing career, I realized that in fact the grass was not greener on the other side. With an engineering degree and experience in the oil patch, I could work 50 to 60 hours per week, make a nice living, and pay retail to race motorcycles whenever I wanted.

So, I closed South Kitsap Cycles, packed my bags, returned to Houston, and went back to work at my old job with a new-found passion for pipeline engineering. I realized, then, just how important pipelining was to me. It was in my blood.

The engineering firm sent me to Indianapolis to open a new office and to work for Marathon Pipe Line. It was at Marathon where I began working in Pipeline Integrity, although we didn’t call it that back then.

Before Bellingham and before the liquid rule, pipeline integrity budgets were very challenged. I was very fortunate to work for an organization that understood the value of managing the integrity of their pipeline assets. Under the tutelage of a mentor-figure, Rich Turley, I was responsible for a lot of the pipeline integrity program development and for hydrotesting, pigging, and digging about 1000 miles of pipelines throughout the Midwest. Over the course of my career as a pipeline operator, I’ve tallied more than 2,000 smart pig digs.

Working for various pipeline operators, I found my biggest frustrations with pigging vendors were: 1) first run success, 2) report turnaround, 3) QA/QC, and 4) the over-all service experience. Sound familiar? I felt that the technology (primarily MFL) was adequate, but that the pigging vendors viewed themselves as technology companies, rather than service companies, and paid little attention to what I as a pipeline integrity engineer did with the data.

In 1999, 15 out of 15 reports I received were flawed at first and had to be sent back for correction of administrative and technical errors. I said, “We can do better than this.”

Now, I’m no physicist, and I’m not really much of a design engineer, so it wasn’t like I could design my own MFL system. Nonetheless, I put a crazy business plan together and started pitching it to people. Meanwhile, the PII-Pipetronix merger resulted in the availability of some talented people, and in January 2001 we took advantage of that to start Cornerstone Pipeline Inspection Group (CPIG).

We had pretty good success on our own as a start-up, but in order achieve our vision at CPIG we made the difficult decision in 2003 to sell the company to Baker Hughes. To meet the industry demand, we needed the financial resources and the infrastructure that Baker Hughes could deliver, and Baker Hughes needed our technology and experience. All told, it was an excellent match, and we achieved great things together.

At CPIG, we commercialized a collapsible core style (also referred to as “floating magnet” style) of MFL magnetizer with a 0.25-inch (6mm) sensor spacing, 25% bore reductions, and back-to-back 1.5D bend capability. With these mechanical capabilities surpassing the capability of caliper ILI tools at the time, we were able to then introduce the MFL/caliper combination tools. Of course, these specs are now the industry standard.

In 2015, market conditions again exposed the need for a great high-tech ILI tool backed by tremendous service (first-run success rate, turn-around time, report quality, overall service experience.) It was at this point that Entegra was born!

The pipeline infrastructure in this country was designed and constructed with a finite lifespan. But the energy demands of this country are not declining.

For me, pipeline integrity is the development and implementation of engineering tools and processes to extend the safe, dependable lifespan of each pipeline asset to infinity. My passion is to improve the condition of every pipeline I interact with and to protect the air, earth, and water from risk.

P&GJ: What were some of your interests as you were growing up, and where was this?

Olson: I grew up in Manchester, WA (population 300) in a small World War II vintage home near a naval base. When I was about 12, we moved a few miles away to a small chicken farm in Port Orchard (population 6,000).

My main interest as a kid was football. I played football with friends every waking moment of every day. Unfortunately, I was too small to be very successful. Oh, and airplanes! I was obsessed with World War II airplanes. In sixth-grade I wrote a 52-page research paper on the P-40E Kittyhawk. Since then, I got my private pilot’s license with an instrument rating, and I still hope to someday restore a warbird to flying condition.

P&GJ: What led to your fascination with IndyCar racing?

Olson: As a kid, I can remember watching the Indy 500 on “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” just knowing that someday I would race at Indianapolis.

I also remember riding with my dad one day as a car passed us. “Why did you let him pass us,” I asked. He replied, “Son, everything in life isn’t a race.” I thought, “Um… Yes, it is!”

My racing began with motorcycles. In college I got a Kawasaki 600, and fortunately didn’t hurt myself. After college, I went to a superbike racing school at Sears Point Raceway in Napa, California. I was hooked!

In 2001, I gave up the bikes. I was recently married and had just started CPIG. While leading the WERA Vintage 6 national championship, I had a wicked crash at Road Atlanta, breaking a few bones. After more than 20 wrecks (several at more than 100 mph!), I finally realized that while I had the courage and will to win, I didn’t have the skill – a dangerous combination. For the first time, I had a family and business partners that needed me to stay reasonably healthy.

Several years later, the racing bug bit again. I bought a Formula Mazda race car and began club level and national level racing with SCCA. In 2007, I attended the Indianapolis Grand Prix. Watching the Indy Lights competition, I thought, “I can do this.”

P&GJ: Were you racing to make a living, or did you have another job, and this was passion for you to indulge in?

Olson: I participated in 10 races in the 2008 Indy Lights championship, including the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis. Indy Lights is the AAA level minor league series for IndyCar. Racing is a very expensive sport, and very few drivers actually get paid by the team to drive. Most drivers bring their own funding to the team, whether sponsor money, investor money, or personnel finances. So, I definitely had a day job – pipeline integrity consulting.

P&GJ: What’s it like behind the wheel for the first time; where did you race; how successful ultimately were you; who did you meet; and what did you learn along the way? And how did your family feel about this?

Olson: To race on an oval in IndyCar, you have to pass a rookie test. You have to demonstrate that you can circulate a high speed oval for 20 consecutive laps with the throttle “on the floor” without erratically “sawing” on the steering wheel. The race director will review the car’s telemetry to make sure that the throttle was “flat” on the floor for the entire time, and they’ll review the steering trace for any big “moments.”

I passed my rookie test at Homestead Motor Speedway in the pre-season of 2008. I really didn’t plan on racing any ovals. I planned to race a couple of road courses on an ad hoc basis, and maybe picking up an oval race late in the season if any slots opened up.

Well, the Monday before Kansas (first oval of the season), team owner, Michael Crawford, called me to tell me that his driver for the number 8 car had to leave for personal reasons. Knowing that I wasn’t ready to drive competitively on a 1.5-mile, high-banked oval, I told Michael that while I was flattered, he should call everyone (anyone) else on his list first.

I really didn’t think that much more about it. Then at dinner, I casually mentioned to Lori (my wife), “Hey, you’d never guess who called today.” After somewhat colorfully questioning my manhood, in front of the kids, she suggested that I consider calling Michael back. Needless to say, Friday I was in Kansas for the weekend.

I got a few practice laps in on Saturday, but qualifying was rained out. In IndyCar, if qualifying is rained out, then the starting positions are based on points – the car’s points for the season. Well the  number 8 car was sixth in points. So, I had to start my first race in sixth place, with only a rookie test and a few laps of practice under my belt, and with 22 extremely talented and experienced racers behind me. At 185-ish mph.

What is it like? It’s stupid! You’re in a prone position, strapped in so tight you can’t breathe. You can only move your hands, feet, and eyeballs. At nearly 200 mph, you can only see in front of you, and you have to keep your vision and focus half a mile ahead. You rely on your spotter to describe the situation behind and around you. I wish I could play you a clip from the radios during the race. It’s unbelievable.

How’d I do? I did terrible. I went from club racing to Indy Lights in one year- that’s like jumping from church softball to AAA baseball. I had a magical race at Milwaukee, where everything came together, and I was driving through the field like a man possessed.

Ultimately, I lost control and all but “tubbed” the car, driving straight into a concrete wall at about 135 mph. I was running fifth at Mid-Ohio in a massive rain storm, before running off the track and getting bogged down in the sand trap with five laps to go. Otherwise, I think I typically finished mid-pack, one of the last cars running on the lead lap. Won a few bucks, but have no regrets.

P&GJ:  When did you decide that you’d had enough of race driving?

Olson: Not sure I’m done, but don’t tell Lori.

(Entegra Interview Part II next issue).  P&GJ

Related Articles


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}