You couldn't exactly describe Ryan Carlson as an unknown in the world of Top Dragster. The Maple Valley, Wash., resident has been quite a force in NHRA's Northwest Division, but this year, "Rotten Ryan" came out with guns blazing on a much larger scale, and now everybody in the category knows his name.
Carlson, who was christened "Rotten Ryan" by a family friend when he was just a small child, has been living up to his moniker in Division 6 by regularly sending competitors home early and empty-handed. His first divisional win was in Super Street in 2002, and for more than a decade, he's been concentrated on the fierce Top Dragster category. Carlson has claimed at least one victory in each season contested since 2016, and after back-to-back years in which he finished No. 3 in the division standings, he felt that the time was right to take it up a notch.
"With the way our car has been running, and with how well we've been able to do at the division level, we decided that this year we wanted to give it a shot at the national level," said 52-year-old Carlson. "It's been pretty good so far."
Carlson and his Rotten Ryan Racing crew, with tuner and chassis builder Mike Robeck at the helm, powered into the season with a semifinals performance at the Las Vegas division race in March.
The next month, they returned to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the challenging NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, and to everyone's surprise but their own, they left with the trophy. It was the first national event win for Carlson in his first final round, and the satisfying victory was the springboard to what is already transpiring to be a career season.
"I knew we had a good chance," stated Carlson. "Over the off-season, we got some new motor parts, and Mike Robeck really helped with the setup for the season we're heading for. To go to the semis straight out of the box at the first race, we knew we could win."
Since his triumph in Las Vegas, Carlson has claimed two additional trips to the semifinals, including one at the esteemed NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona two weeks ago. At present, he and the team are en route to Minnesota for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. From there, they plan to run the divisional double-header in Billings, Montana, then another division race in Boise, followed by the season-closing divisional event in Las Vegas and the NHRA Finals in Pomona.
"It's pretty hard, especially because it's mostly out of pocket and this is an expensive car to run, but I'm grateful for the support that we have from Master Wholesale and Robeck Custom Fabrication," said Carlson. "And we have a great team. My brother, Tom, drives the truck and trailer with me from race to race; Tom, Jacob, and Bryan work on the engine when it's back at the house; and I couldn't really do this without Mike Robeck's help. He oversees the whole thing, and anytime I need his help, he's there for as long as it takes, even if it's to three or four in the morning.
"We have the drive to be No. 1 in the division, and hopefully, we'll be in the top three or four at the national level – or better – when this year is over."