Jerry Lackey in full swing as the 31st NitrOlympX approaches
The NitrOlympX is always one of the highlights of the European drag racing season. The Hockenheimring facility, the special atmosphere of the Motodrome and of course the traditional Saturday Night Show all make this race of the FIA European Drag Racing Championship a special one. After the very successful 30th edition last year, number 31 promises to be even bigger and better. Now, with the start of the 2016 FIA season quickly approaching, it’s time for an interview with Jerry Lackey, who since 2009 has been the race director of the NitrOlympX and with 47 years in drag racing is one of the most experienced people in the sport. The former racer and still promoter, organizer and race director talks about the event that marks his life.
What are your expectations for the 2016 NitrOlympX? Last year was great, but do you think it will be even better this year? And will there be even more competitors than last year, as it seems like the race gets more and more popular every year.
JL: It will be hard to top the numbers of the sellout crowd from 2015, but the pre ticket sales leads us to believe that this might just happen in 2016, and pre planning for additional seating is already on the table. Yes, we are sure that the number of competitors will increase in 2016, as there were several racers who were mad at themselves for not believing that our track would be so good and did not enter the 30th anniversary event. We made them believers and they will be at the head of the line to get in the show for 2016.
Are the preparations for the 2016 NitrOlympX according to plan so far?
JL: The planning for 2016 Nr.31 started during number 30 in 2015. Everything is going strongly with no setbacks as of yet.
You don’t expect problems with the (late) F1 Grand Prix date?
JL: We learned the hard way in the past how the F1 can affect our event, and we now know when and what action we must take on the track. Our current plan is to start with first stages of preparation at the end of this April, and we will be putting down rubber far in advance of this year’s F1, and immediately after the F1 we will start with many barrels of Track Bite, Gold Dust and other materials. We will again in 2016 be supported by the best track prep crew in Europe, Ian, David and Darren from Santa Pod Raceway, as well as our own experts from the Hockenheimring.
How difficult is it to have only three days for a full FIA, FIM and Sportsman program?
JL: It is indeed a very difficult job, but we have learned over the years to put a devoted crew together and with our Hockenheimring dragster crews and team, we can repeatedly get the event completed, and are still friends at the end of the day. It is also amazing to see how 99% of the racers understand and support us in our very tight time frame.
What makes the NitrOlympX so special? It has such a long and successful history!
JL: The NitrOlympX was an amazingly popular event from the beginning, considering that we had to convince German motorsport fans that this new, for Germany, motorsport was highly interesting and a motorsport event that the average fan could participate in the same as the big boys. The NitrOlympX is one of a very few events in Germany that have sellout crowds, and I believe our numbers top most all other event organizers in Europe and maybe even many tracks in the USA.
What special things can we expect in 2016?
JL: We expect to see the return of the FIA Pro Stock cars and are investigating all possibilities of finding Top Methanol Dragsters and Top Methanol Funny Cars in order to build the weak number of cars in these two classes and not be forced to drop them from the 2016 event. We are also bringing two AA/Fuel Altereds from the USA to support our 2016 program and will share these cars with some Santa Pod events. We, as always, have a few surprises in the bag and look forward to seeing the effect they will have on everyone.
How important is the Saturday Night Show for the event? And why is the night show such a great success?
JL: The NitrOlympX Saturday Night Show has grown from its very start in May 1991 into one of the main attractions in the dragster scene all over Europe, and is even known by many racers in the USA who follow racing in Europe. A past Vice President of International Operationsfrom the NHRA told me one time when he was here, that many tracks in the USA should also try a night show as an extra bonus for the spectators, and give them a good reason to stay at the track after regular racing was over for the day. I travel each year to all the major events before our NitrOlympX throughout Europe, in order to find new attractions for our Saturday Night Show, and so far we are lucky that we can find something new every year.
How do you see the future of the NitrOlympX and drag racing in general?
JL: I think that after the great reputation that the NitrOlympX has gained over the last 31 years with both ups and downs, the NitrOlympX has a place in European Drag Racing that can never be taken away. I think that we must not let politics between organizers and governing bodies cause any more damage to our sport and therefore help the longevity of our sport all over Europe.
What is good and what could be better regarding the NitrOlympX?
JL: I feel that the good surrounding the NitrOlympX is the team work from many members of our NitrOlympX organization and the continued support we receive from the CEO of the Hockenheimring, Mr Georg Seiler. The NitrOlympX could and would be even better if the FIA Drag Racing Commission and its members were to accept and appreciate feedback from the event organizers and sponsors and give people like myself with over 47 years of drag racing experience both as racer, promoter and organizer, as well as other promoters the chance to better organize events without having a cement block tied to the leg.
Why and when did you move from the States to Germany?
JL: I first came to Germany as a soldier in the US Army in 1963, and after serving several years at different bases around the world, I came back to Germany the end of 1968.
You were involved in the NitrOlympX from the very first start. What was your role before you became race director?
JL: I was one of the founding members of the first officially recognized drag racing clubs under the AVD (Automobile Club Of Germany) in 1969. I was the president of the HARA (Hanau Auto Racing Association) for over 34 years and also a racer in many classes up until 2004, at which time I gave up my helmet and continued on only in management of events all over Europe as a race director. In late 1985 I joined a group of four other men to found a firm (Drag Racing GMBH) and after finding out that the F1 would not be run at the Hockenheimring in 1986, we approached the management of the ring and offered them an alternative to the F1 for the date that was going to be blank. We had to do some heavy convincing and heavy talking, but the management gave us a chance as they had nothing to lose and maybe a new event was being born. Needless to say, now almost 31 years later, the NitrOlympX is THE name in European drag racing events, and is known almost all over the drag racing world as the event with sellout crowds. My main function was in organizing and serving as a ONS/OMK (German Motorsport ASNs) official, as well as race director until I sold my share in the firm to Rico Anthes, after a few points that we could not agree on in the interest of all racers and not just the big boys. Rico asked me in 2006 to return as the assistant race director with his sister Silke, who was serving as the race director. After Rico went into retirement, the Hockenheimring asked me to take over full responsibility as their only race director, and I have held this position now since 2009.
Why did you accept the job as a race director? It’s a great responsibility and there will always be people who will not be happy with a decision you have to make.
JL: When Rico asked me, I was happy to get back to the event that has for many years been a major part of my life. Rico also knew that I enjoyed the friendship of the majority of all racers in Germany and many from all over Europe. There are always a few racers that are never happy, and a few that are only happy when they win, but 95% of all racers are satisfied with the events that I have been connected with and that is a reason for me to continue on in the sport as long as the racers and my teams and associates at the Hockenheimring accept me and have confidence in my work.
When do you personally start with your preparations for a NitrOlympX?
JL: I personally start mentally preparing for the next NitrOlympX during the present NitrOlympX event, as it is being conducted. I have a pocket full of notes and new ideas built around the present event as it transpires. I also am known for having an open ear for suggestions from our racers and teams for future events.
How time consuming is this job for you?
JL: I organize and work with other events in the Czech Republic, and this year in Italy, but I would say that 60% of my spare time is spent eating, drinking and breathing for the NitrOlympX.
You have a long track record in drag racing. How many years do you still want to go on?
JL: I have mentally quit dozens of times over the past 47 years, but I keep getting back on my feet and moving on. As long as my health will allow me to, I have set a new goal of 50 years, which must be some kind of record in drag racing, and I am always known as a record chaser.
What is the most difficult thing of being a race director?
JL: In the minds of lots of racers, the race director is responsible not only for a few good things, but most of the bad things that go wrong at an event, and in some weird cases even the weather.
Worst thing you experienced as the NitrOlympX race director?
JL: The one and only fatal injury, the death of Tony Boden at one of our first events in the 80’s.
Best memory as a race director of the NitrOlympX?
JL: The surprise ceremony at our 2014 Nitro’s from my crews, family and many teams and spectators in honor of my then 45 years in our sport, which took place without my prior knowledge prior to the Saturday Night Show. That was very moving.
Text and photos: Remco Scheelings