Evan Knoll, the one time drag racing magnate plead guilty today to Federal charges that have the potential to send him to prison for 70 years and cost him upwards of $100-million in fines. That sound you just heard was the drag racing world breathing a collective sigh of relief. If this case had gone to trial and many of the sport’s biggest names were brought to testify, it would have been injurious to the sport of drag racing in ways that probably cannot be put into words sufficiently. The plea comes as a slight surprise to us, seeing as how vocal Knoll had been regarding his innocence, lack of mental capacity at the time this was happening, and normally verbose attitude. Even he must have seen how mountainous the evidence was against him.
According to news reports, Knoll stood before a judge today and took 100% blame and responsibility for the scheme that bilked the government vis-a-vis the American taxpayers out of $89-million dollars. Through that scheme he also managed to collect some $15-million in bank loans based on that false income. He had multiple homes, an airplane, lived an extravagant life, and according to what he said today, knew it was all based on money he was stealing…in huge volumes. At base, the scheme was collecting excise taxes back from the government for racing fuel his company was making, as off highway fuels do not incur the tax. The problem was that his company was not producing the fuels in nearly the volume he was stating that they were.
Knoll will be sentenced in November and faces what will amount to life in prison and fines that could total $100-million. There’s no word on how much the government plans on trying to recoup. They have already gotten a couple of million back through the sale of seized properties, including a vacation home on a lake.
Knoll’s meteoric rise and fall in drag racing was on a scale that no one had ever seen. He funded cars from the lowest sportsman classes all the way up through the top levels of the IHRA and NHRA. His Torco company could be seen sponsoring national events, and even classes in the IHRA and NHRA. It all ended as quickly as it came though, when the government raided the Torco offices and the long process of information gathering began. That process has now come to the end that many of us suspected that it would all those years ago. Evan Knoll was and is a fraud.
His participation in the sport was funded by money stolen out of the pockets of the American people. Had this actually gone to trial, the sport of drag racing may have suffered a public relations disaster so severe that they wouldn’t have recovered. The money was so pervasive and so free flowing that there was nary a team that didn’t get a piece. Knoll’s often bizarre decision making (remember the short lived line of “Divorce Gear” clothing?) belied the real him. A Michigan huckster. His massive wealth and apparent business success earned him awards and accolades, most notably, the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2007. Hopefully their selection process has tightened up since then, because the irony is unparalleled.
I, like virtually everyone else in the sport during those years saw some benefit to the largess of Knoll. Mine was a nice dinner after a weekend announcing a race in San Antonio with one of Evan’s employees. Others gained substantially more than a dinner, this I know for a fact.
With the country’s political climate and the fact that Knoll will be sentenced in November, we think that he’s going to get the book thrown at him, and in our belief, rightfully so.