Exclusive interview with Carl Olson

In May 2005 the FIA Drag Racing Commission voted in favour of a proposal to remove FIA Championship status from Top Methanol Dragster in 2006, and to grant FIA Championship status to Pro Modified. Eurodragster.com interviewed FIA Drag Racing Commission Chair Carl Olson about the background to the proposal, the vote itself, the future of Top Methanol Dragster outside the FIA European Championship, and the effect of the proposal upon the FIA Championship as a whole.

Eurodragster.com: Could you explain the Commission's rationale for removing FIA Championship status from Top Methanol Dragster?

Carl Olson: First off, it should be noted that the Commisssion has proposed the elimination of the Top Methanol Dragster category from the FIA European Championship in 2006. The rationale, as I perceive it, is that not all tracks that host rounds of the Championship are in a position to fund any increase in purses at their FIA events. The elimination of TMD was a direct reaction to the perceived need to include Pro Modified within the Championship next year, as determined at the 2004 annual meeting of the Commission. Given that Pro Mod is currently capable of providing more than twenty entries from a wide variety of European countries for sixteen car fields at FIA events, and given their stated desire to be included in the Championship, it became obvious that a choice would have to be made. Either retain TMD at its current minimal levels of participation and exclude Pro Mod for the foreseeable future, or accept Pro Mod and eliminate the weakest of the existing categories. Based on entry levels in TMD during the 2004 season, the Commission members felt that the trade-off between Pro Mod and TMD would be in the best interest of the Championship.

Eurodragster.com: How long has the idea to remove TMD's FIA Championship status been under consideration? What is its history?

Carl Olson: The concept of deleting TMD from the Championship was not a matter of consideration until the Commission was asked, by the racers and the organizers, to include the Pro Mod category within the Championship. To the best of my recollection, this would first have been officially discussed in 2003.

Eurodragster.com: TMD is making way for Pro Mod; could Pro Mod not simply be added as a fifth FIA Championship class?

Carl Olson: Under ideal circumstances, the simple addition of Pro Mod would seem to be the logical course of action. Unfortunately, there are several significant impediments to this. By far, the most compelling is the fact that some of the smaller, club run tracks are simply not in a position to increase their purse payouts as a result of the addition of Pro Mod. In order for their events to remain even marginally financially viable, there would have to be a purse adjustment to offset the addition of Pro Mod. The only alternative for these tracks, if only given the option of contesting both categories, would be for them to completely withdraw from the Championship. This was not considered to be a healthy course of action for the Championship.

Another issue is the number of Championshp categories which have already proven to be a problem at some levels within the FIA administration. Chief among them would be the continued inclusion of the FIA European Drag Racing Champions in the annual FIA Gala Prizegiving Ceremonies in Monte Carlo, where drag racing is already perceived to be too complex, with too many champions in relation to other FIA motorsport disciplines.

Yet another would be television coverage of the Championship, involving further production costs, less time "on air" for existing categories, and so on.

Eurodragster.com: What exactly were the formalities leading up to the vote in Bahrain?

Carl Olson: The formalities were the discussion of how best to be able to accept Pro Mod into the Championship in 2006.

Eurodragster.com: What exactly were the formalities of the vote itself in Bahrain?

Carl Olson: Following a great deal of discussion and debate, along with consultation with all affected organizers and promoters, a motion was made, seconded, and voted upon. There was no objection, and the vote to pass the motion was unanimous, with the exception of the new Commission members from China and Russia, who were completely unfamiliar with the issue and, rightfully, chose to abstain.

Eurodragster.com: The TMD racers appeared shocked and stunned when they heard about the vote. Had they not been informed that the subject would be arising at the Bahrain meeting?

Carl Olson: There have been informal discussions with TMD racers regarding the possibility of this action for more than a year. Because there was no way of knowing how the discussion regarding the addition of Pro Mod would unfold, there was no specific agenda item dealing exclusively with the potential elimination of TMD from the Championship.

Eurodragster.com: The end of May 2005 was not much notice to the racers that their FIA Championship status was to be withdrawn in 2006. Shouldn't they have been given longer?

Carl Olson: In a perfect world, everyone would have several years of advance notice. This proposal has absolutly no impact on the 2005 FIA European Championship, and the Commission members felt that a full season's notice was reasonable under the circumstances.

Eurodragster.com: Were you surprised at the strength of the TMD racers' response?

Carl Olson: I was not at all surprised. I would have expected nothing less. I have personally observed changes made in drag racing categories all of my adult life, first as an enthusiast, then as an owner and driver, and for twenty five years with the NHRA as an official. I have been personally impacted by several of these changes.

While it would be quite nice to perpetuate every category and class of car that ever competed in the sport, given the dynamics of racer, promoter and spectator preferences, change is inevitable. I would expect any racer faced with this situation to put up the fight of his or her life to remain within the Championship, and encourage the support of as many other racers as possible. I strongly respect their perspective as, I am quite certain, do the other members of the Commission.

Eurodragster.com: The TMD racers say that numbers are up and thus that the class is growing again. What message does this decision send to those who have invested heavily to join TMD this season, or to upgrade their operations, or to those who were considering moving up?

Carl Olson: Whether or not the numbers are going to truly be up in 2005 is pure speculation at this point. If the numbers do increase to an acceptable level, I would expect that the Commission would revisit the issue, and hopefully develop an alternative solution in sufficient time to make a revised proposal to the World Motor Sport Council in October.

I would, however, have to say that all of the Commission members I spoke with agreed that three entries does not consititute a truly legitimate Championship level competition. Pro Mod notwithstanding, these kinds of numbers are of legitimate concern.

Eurodragster.com: Although it leaves the way open for National Championships and even a non-FIA European Championship, do you agree that this decision could conceivably kill off TMD altogether? If so then what do the racers do with their operations?

Carl Olson: Non-FIA Championship status has not killed Pro Mod or Funny Car, so I would personally have a hard time believing that there would not continue to be some viable form of competition for TMD in Europe at various levels. The Commission is not proposing elimination of the category (as was the case with NHRA Pro Stock Truck), only from the Championship. From what I have been told, there are numerous TMD teams that currently compete at various events and levels in Europe, but do not support the Championship. I would certainly not expect these teams to disappear from the sport.

Eurodragster.com: Have the racers' representations to you made any difference? Have there been any developments as a result?

Carl Olson: I would say that the racers' representations always make a difference in my consideration of these matters. Each Commission member has a responsibility to maintain communication with his constituents at all levels, and I have never personally failed to consider or respond to any racer input; whether from the jurisdiction I represent (USA), or from anywhere else in the world. While the validity of many of the TMD racers' representations remain to be seen, I think it would be fair to say that each and every member of the Commission would prefer to find a solution that meets everyone's needs. That must, of course, include the track owners, promoters and organizers who ultimately bear the financial burden of the purses.

Eurodragster.com: Is it correct that Pro Stock is the next FIA class to come under review? If so then why is that?

Carl Olson: The Commission also proposed, in Bahrain, that should the number of entries in Pro Stock drop below six at any round of the 2005 Championship, that the Commission would determine whether or not it should continue to be included within the Championship. The Pro Stock issue is complicated by any number of problems, such as the ban on the use of leaded racing gasoline in EU countries, over which the Commission has absolutely no jurisdiction. With that said, Pro Stock numbers at Championship events continue to decline alarmingly. I believe it is fair to say that the Commission members are very concerned about the very real possibility that a continued lack of support of the Championship must, at some point, be addressed in the best interest of the sport.

Eurodragster.com: What is the long-term strategy for the FIA Championship?

Carl Olson: From my perspective, the FIA Drag Racing Commission views the Championship on a season-to-season basis. To the best of my knowledge, there is no specific long-term strategy. Given that changes in drag racing are generally unforseeable and somewhat spontaneous in nature, the Commission members simply deal with issues as they arise, and try their very best to make decisions that will ultimately be in the best interest of both the Championship and the sport in general. I cannot, of course, speak for the other Commission members, but I am very strongly of the opinion that none of them has any kind of "hidden agenda", or relishes the thought of making decisions that are patently unfair and/or unreasonable, or made without due consideration.

The governing of the sport at the FIA level is a very delicate balancing act, and there are simply occsions when difficult and unpleasant decisions must be made. If these hard decisions can be avoided by making adjustments that minimize inconvenience for any and all racers, that is the course of action I would expect from my fellow Commission members, all of whom generously volunteer their time and efforts to help the sport of drag racing develop in Europe and around the world, achieve its ultimate potential.

Eurodragster.com: Thank you very much for your time, Carl.

Interview ©Eurodragster.com

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