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Exclusive interview with Keith Bartlett
In what is becoming an annual feature, Eurodragster.com caught up with FIA and FIM/UEM European Championship promoter and Santa Pod Raceway Chief Executive Keith Bartlett at Autosport International. We asked Keith about the 2006 and future European Championships, developments at Santa Pod, and more.
Eurodragster.com: Firstly, could you please settle it once and for all for us. Is the first round in Bahrain happening or not?
Keith Bartlett: Bahrain is off. The track has not got an FIA Grade A licence.
Eurodragster.com: Thank you, that should stop the E-Mails and phone calls! So, tell us about the 2006 Championships.
Keith Bartlett: We are making major changes in 2006. We've got to try to take both the Championships and the infrastructure to the next level. The Championships have grown in terms of car counts, safety and a common understanding between tracks. We are rapidly reaching our goals in numbers of entries. I am expecting ten or twelve Top Fuellers at each round, Pro Mod is healthy, and we will get a realistically healthy entry in Top Methanol Dragster. But we are languishing in terms of commercial growth of the Championships. We must bring in new tracks and new countries. We have to expand into new markets - we now need to have a product strong enough to attract the right level of corporate sponsorship. More tracks, and a better TV package, and then we need to find a way to help the teams to go to those rounds financially: so many of them are doing this semi-professionally. We need more rounds and only when there is the right balance of markets in place coupled with strong TV and strong entries in all classes will we attract the level of sponsorship we need. It would be easy to go out and undersell it, but you can't do that and then hope that they will take an increase.
Eurodragster.com: Explain to us about the infrastructure issues.
Keith Bartlett: Part and parcel of it is the Power Racing Group itself. I've talked about the need to build the infrastructure and it has to start now if we're to achieve the other goals. We need more resources including funding, specialist staff, and the ability to handle and develop new business. Between 12th September and 25th December I was in England for eighteen days. I've been in discussions with new tracks and potential commercial partners. All to take PRP and the Championships to the level I described.
Eurodragster.com: Which countries are you talking with?
Keith Bartlett: I'm aiming at Italy, France and Hungary. I'm also working on the overall idea of an opening round in the Middle East. If that falls into place then that will be March 2007. Kumnadaras in Hungary has applied for a UEM Championship round and if we can satisfy the commercial elements of that round then it will go ahead two weeks after the Main Event. Furthermore I've just begun negotiations with them to be able to hold Championship rounds of both FIA and FIM/UEM in 2007. This is subject to safety and other checks. They have a concrete surface and guardrails, the just need to make other improvements. I've also been involved in discussions with two or three parties in Greece. There is the potential for an international event in Greece in the near future.
Eurodragster.com: Back home again, we understand that a resurface of Santa Pod is on the cards?
Keith Bartlett: We're going to have to resurface the track, some time in the next six to twelve months. We may well end up resurfacing from the start line to a hundred feet before this season but that has yet to be decided.
Eurodragster.com: Santa Pod seems to be becoming a boom industry.
Keith Bartlett: The FIA Championship rounds do very well and are very viable. Bug Jam and Ultimate Street Car no longer keep Santa Pod running for the rest of the year. The FIA rounds and other activities all contribute vital profit streams to the overall income. We are carrying on our developments with more toilets, more resurfacing in the pits, and more grandstand work.
Eurodragster.com: Did anything come out of John Force's visit in December and his plans to go on tour?
Keith Bartlett: We had an interesting time with John. I also renewed my relationship with Bruce Firkins of Castrol. We've had positive discussions about bringing John and his team over to race in Europe, and those discussions are still ongoing. The problem is finding a space in John's calendar. Money and car's aren't the problem, the schedules are the problem. That said I believe that a John Force tour is going to happen in the next year or two and I am determined that Santa Pod Raceway will be part of it.
Eurodragster.com: So there is a lot to be optimistic about?
Keith Bartlett: I think that 2006 and 2007 look to be the most exciting and promising for several years, only to be tainted by the sheer task of fulfilling our goals in such a short time. On a personal note I feel that it's unlikely that all of these projects will come off. But if only thirty per cent of them come off then it will be a huge boost for European drag racing.
Eurodragster.com: Thank you for your time Keith, we know that you are particularly busy at Autosport.
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