An enthusiast for all types of motor sport, American Carl Olson started to visit drag race events as a spectator during the mid-1950s. He first drove a fuel dragster in 1964, but his greatest success on the strip came when he joined up with Mike Kuhl and by 1972 he was IHRA Top Fuel World Champion and a regular Top Fuel Dragster winner at NHRA events. He won the last Top Fuel dragster eliminator to be held at Lions. By 1976 he had finished his racing career and took a Vice President’s role with the NHRA.
Although he had previously ‘touched base’ with European drag racing via meetings with Alan Wigmore in the USA and advising Brian Taylor on introducing Europe’s first contingency sponsorship scheme, his first in-depth introduction to British drag racing occurred in 1989. Carl was by then NHRA Vice President for International Relations. He and fellow NHRA Vice President, Bernie Partridge were invited to attend an event at Avon Park Raceway on Long Marston aerodrome (now Shakespeare County Raceway).
His hosts were David Riswick, who had just taken up an operating lease on the track, and David Wilkinson of Blacktop Promotions, the company formed to promote meetings there. Wilkinson was also Chairman of the British Drag Racing Association. Carl and Bernie were asked to review the facility, spend a bit of time with the organizers and participants, and make recommendations regarding potential improvements to the facility and event conduct. Dave Riswick’s end game was for it to become an NHRA sanctioned drag venue but problems with the lease scuppered this dream
But Carl also had a growing relationship with the Swedish drag racing fraternity and, at the behest of Per Olav Forsberg, attended regular meetings of a group that went on to form the European Drag Racing Association (EDRA). This was a coalition of Scandinavian drag racing organizers and officials with the common objective of improving the structure and execution of the sport primarily in Scandinavia, but with hopes of extending any progress throughout greater Europe.
When the EDRA members ultimately decided that in their view it would be in the sport’s best interest to approach the FISA/FIA for official recognition, Carl was selected to make initial contact and he extended an invitation for newly elected FISA President, Max Mosley, to attend the NHRA US Nationals in Indianapolis. He was extremely impressed, with what he saw, proposing the establishment of a standing FIA Drag Racing Commission that would make proposals to the FISA World Motor Sport Council for formal ratification. The World Council ultimately endorsed Mosley’s proposals and elected Carl to serve as Commission President in 1993, a position he held for the next thirteen years.
During that time, the Commission oversaw the establishment and development of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship series. And using the rules, regulations, policies and procedures of the NHRA as a model, the FIA established a comprehensive section of their rulebook dealing exclusively with drag racing. Today it is the standard by which the sport is conducted around the world. Carl Olson’s involvement was instrumental in taking the status of European drag racing (and with it British drag racing) to the very highest level and facilitating a focal point that then enabled the different national organising bodies to build the international sport that provides such a great show today. It is for this work that he has been inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
He later became Motorsports Manager for the SFI Foundation that looks after safety issues; a business with which he still retains a consultancy relationship when not working on his latest Bonneville project. He also serves as a Board member on the Quarter Mile Foundation led by Traci Hrudka that is logging the history of drag racing for a TV series.