The Chevy Chase native will be the first foreigner to race in the China Formula Grand Prix F2000 race series held in April. A former financial broker, Olson made the leap from hobbyist to pro after winning a Bridgestone sponsorship in 2008. He moved to China in 2009 where he test-drives, races and is also an instructor for Champ Motorsport.

How does someone from Chevy Chase wind up racing cars in China?

I started doing it as a hobby. It costs about $50,000 to run a whole season in Formula cars, so I only did races here and there from 2003 to 2007. But then in 2007 I read about this program called Bridgestone Racing Academy in Toronto. You work as a mechanic in exchange for a race season. ... I won the [Bridgestone] series, and if you win the series you win a sponsorship for the whole season. After [the] 2008 [season] ... I worked my contacts and wound up with a deal in Zhuhai, China, to be an instructor.

In racing do things happen as fast as they look?

No. On the straights, the cars reach 160 mph, but the thing is you get so used to it. .... And when you're driving on the track it's much more predictable with experienced drivers and safer than driving on the street, I think. On the track sometimes people do stupid things, but generally there's much more awareness and concentration.

Have you ever been in an accident?

Yeah, two big ones. One in 2005 at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. I spun the car and had another driver coming around the curve at about 80 mph and he hit me and T-boned the car. ... In 2006 I had an accident testing a car in China. I was very lucky because one of the suspension pieces punctured the cockpit and stopped right before my rib.

- Liz Farmer