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The 2005 FIA Main Event Family
The team of race and track officials at the 2005 FIA Main Event at Santa Pod Raceway included personnel from Clubs across Europe working in all areas. The UK, Sweden, Finland and Germany were amongst the countries represented, continuing a growing trend for co-operation at European Championship events which has benefitted racers, officials and fans alike. Eurodragster.com spoke to some of the officials at the FIA Main Event to find out about their individual jobs and how their hard work contributed to the event and to European drag racing as as a whole.
Andrea Kloss is based at Hockenheim in Germany. When an FIA meeting is run at Hockenheim, Andrea is involved for the first two days with FIA paperwork - entries, scrutineers' forms, stewards' reports and the like. However on race days, Andrea changes role to being a Pit Marshal which involves communicating to the racers how the race is going timewise, calling them when they are due in the staging lanes, and passing on any relevant information.
"Santa Pod Raceway is a regular track whereas Hockenheim only posts one race a year, the NitroympX", said Andrea. "There are definitely much more experienced marshals and officials at Santa Pod, from which we can learn. I have come to Santa Pod to pick up this experience. It is great the way we have been made to feel at home. One example of the difference is that there are more cars to deal with at Santa Pod and I have learned how the procedures need to be changed to cope with the additional traffic.
"I am interested in doing more work at international tracks to build up my knowledge. I am here for the Main Event and will attend the Veidec Nitro Nationals at Mantorp Park as a spectator, although I would be happy to help in any way possible. There is a family tradition in the sport - my father was involved and my brother races in Super Comp in Florida.
"I don't see there being a permanent dedicated German track in the near future although there are plenty of races at airport facilities, with a lot of enthusiastic officials. The needs for FIA meetings at permanent facilities are different as the competitors have more sophisticated machinery and there are greater vehicle numbers. The racing must be organised with the needs of the classes in mind. Santa Pod is lucky to have the depth of officials needed to host an FIA meeting and this is not always the case at other tracks."
Tapio Väljä is president of the Finnish Hot Rod Association. His home track is Alastaro, which hosts the Finnish round of the FIA series. Tapio is event director of the Alastaro FIA race, overseeing the Clerk of the Course, the Press Office and other officials. However at meetings other than the FIA race he is Race Director, as he is a qualified Clerk of the Course under FIA rules. He also acts as an FIA steward at the Main Event.
"The main difference in working at other tracks is the language", said Tapio. "However when you realise that nearly all of the racers and officials speak English, then you realise this is not such a problem. We have between thirty five and forty officials and marshals in the FHRA and there isn't high turnover as most people have been with us for ten years or more. Our main gap is with getting people that are experienced in organising and running big events. I guess that the only way you get this experience is to go to other FIA events as an international marshal and learn at those.
"One example is that we have very few people that have experience of working as startline marshals or fire marshals with nitro cars. Clearly with them you need special training as they have their own significant issues. So we at the FHRA have sent marshals to other countries' events such as the Main Event, or the European Finals at which we had ten people helping and observing what was being done to run a slick race."
"I am very keen that European Drag Racing builds up an international pool of marshals. This enables us to get to know and work together at all the various tracks used for the FIA and UEM Championships but also gives us the opportunity to learn and apply new skills from one another that we can use at our home tracks to improve the sport there."
Tomas Pettersson has been Assistant Race Director at the Veidec Festival (formerly the Sko-Uno Drag Festival) at Mantorp Park for ten years. He has also been heavily involved in track preparation before and during the race, as well as clean-up. Apart from ihs work at the track Tomas revised the Swedish drag racing safety and rescue regulations in an attempt to make it easier and less expensive for other tracks in Sweden to arrange safe races, and also sits on a Committee of top officials for the Swedish Motorsports Association which works across different disciplines. He has also been invited to work at Gardermoen but has not been able to attend.
At the Main Event Tomas was working as a spotter at 1200 feet, "Trying to locate 'stuff' and oil from the race vehicles". He told us that there were originally differences between the FIA event at Mantorp Park and equivalent events at Santa Pod.
"Ths main difference was in regard to the people working at the race", said Tomas. "The way we organised things was to select reliable Chief officials from different clubs for the different areas, and they recruited their teams from different clubs. This means that people from all over Sweden were involved in arranging and running the race. In recent years personnel from Norway, Denmark, Finland and the UK have been involved in running the race. I would say that this works OK. Most, if not all, of the officials, marshals and racers speak English. Obviously there are some communication problems but nothing which cannot be fixed."
Tomas said that the broadening of co-operation between countries has been of great benefit. "Everyone can learn something, and increasing the number of people who know what to do and how to handle things is a strength in itself", he said. "It increases the quality of the races, and in the long run of the sport itself. I have also noticed that the racers feel comfortable when they recognise the same officials on different tracks."
Björn Sundqvist works at Mantorp Park as track announcer, and also works at the new Meca track in Mälmo and at Piteå in northern Sweden. Björn has been involved with the sport for many years. "I have seen the sport progress to the stage that it is much more professional now - and expected to be run professionally at all tracks", he said. "At Mantorp Park there is circuit racing as well as drag racing. This presented us with the problem of how to optimise our team of marshals for drag racing events. We have found over the years that it is preferable to have separate teams for each type of racing as there are often entirely different skills involved."
Björn believes that the best crews at Drag Racing events are those that have had experience not only in depth but also in breadth. "The Nordic Drag Racing Series series helps increase the international co-operation as racing is held in four countries. Whilst we have to run at many venues we want to operate similarly at each one we visit. So it is extremely important to share not only information, but also people between the venues. This is so helpful to get marshals trained up at the venues so they can work more effectively.
"Santa Pod is fortunate in that it operates most of the year on a weekly basis and there is a large pool of track workers and officials to draw upon. This is not the case for some tracks in Scandinavia which may only operate a few events each year."
Björn said that some officials and marshals are keen to work internationally. However the leadership in this ideally needs to come from the top of the sport. "We are lucky that Kjell Petterson met Keith Bartlett a number of years ago at the Midnight Sun Internationals",said Björn. "Kjell had drag racing organisational responsibility in Scandinavia and also was affiliated to the NHRA, where he was trained. If Keith hadn't recruited Kjell to become Track Manager at Santa Pod, he would have gone to the US to work for NHRA. Kjell's leadership and strategy is key to running the FIA events and his links between the UK and Scandinavian racing are crucial."
Björn said that detailed planning is the key to a successful event. "The critical element of this is the management of the race running order and turnaround times, which vary according to class", he said. "The larger the field the more important the planning, particularly when there are Pro and semi-Pro racing teams."
Steve Horn is Santa Pod Raceway's Chief Marshal and heads up the timekeeping crew at Santa Pod. As well as these duties, Steve is Judge of Fact at Championship meetings - a crucial role on which the result of some races or even Championships depend. Steve has been involved at Santa Pod for over twenty five years. "I started working in 1979 by helping on jet cars", he said. "I then raced jets between 1980 and 1982. In 1990 I got involved with the timekeeping and the TSI system, which has been used at the track since then. Over the years I have developed a crew of between six and eight fully competent timekeepers - this way, I have avoided over-reliance on one person. One of the most important aims with building up a team of marshals is to ensure there is more than sufficient trained resource for all positions at the track.
"It is also key for marshals to have international experience to help develop a range of skills. For instance, Tomas who is a race director in Sweden is a spotter here and his skills make a difference at the large events. I also work at Mantorp Park as a timekeeper which I have done for two years now. There are things I noticed at Mantorp about the way they run events which I have applied over here and which have worked, and I am sure that the same is true vice versa.
"So it is of great benefit to work with each other internationally. There is a team of people here at Santa Pod who are keen to work at other tracks in Europe and I am sure that this is true of other tracks too."
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