Exclusive interview with Kjell Pettersson about four-day events at Santa Pod Raceway

In October 2003 Eurodragster learned from Santa Pod Raceway's Track Manager Kjell Pettersson that both the FIA Main Event and the FIA European Finals were to be extended to four days beginning in 2004. As Chairman of Svensk Dragracing, Kjell had already presided over the extension of Mantorp Park's Veidec Nitro Festival to four days and the extension of Santa Pod's FIA events had long been expected. We spoke to Kjell in November 2003 to discover the thinking behind the change, and the implications for Pro and Sportsman racers, officials, and fans.

Eurodragster: What is the thinking behind the extension of the Main Event and European Finals to four days?

Kjell Pettersson: There will be less pressure on the events. We can't continue to cram in what we have in three days, especially if there are problems. One of the concerns we had was that if we left it at three days, we would have had to have to taken classes out. That day may come but we're going to try it over four days and see how it goes.

Eurodragster: For how long has the extension to four days been under consideration?

Kjell Pettersson: We've been discussing it for two years. We wanted to move to four days when Mantorp Park did, but we felt that we were not ready site-wise. We think that's more or less OK now and we are still looking to invest more in several areas. In fact we have started some of the work already with the installation of a new media centre and improvements to viewing for disabled people. We are also looking to improve our toilet and shower facilities for our visitors, and finally Anglian Water will hopefully improve the water supply.

Eurodragster: It was common knowledge that the European Finals was to be extended to four days in 2004 but the Main Event was extended too. What prompted that?

Kjell Pettersson: There is not really any difference between the Main Event and the European Finals in terms of vehicle numbers. Also the number of professional racers is growing as well as Sportsmen: at the European Pro Mod Racers Association annual meeting in October, eleven of the Scandinavian NDRS Bilsport Pro Mod teams present committed to attend the 2004 Main Event. We wanted to ensure that there was room on the schedule for the Sportsman racers, so we concluded that we had to extend the Main Event as well.

Eurodragster: Does the extension mean that additional classes will be included? For example, CCSE and Super Street Bike frequently raise the question of their appearance at FIA events.

Kjell Pettersson: Not at this moment. If anything we are trying to streamline the events and make them as entertaining as possible, but we would have to change UK drag racing even more to really get it as we would like it, which isn't easy! So it has to be a bit of a compromise. You have to remember that if we have a day's rain then we are back to a three-day event, which puts us back where we were. The limit on the number of racers in the pits is greater than the constraints on the racing schedule, but we are looking to hopefully invest more in that area as well during next season.

Eurodragster: How do you see the organisation of the races changing with the extra day? For example, will you be looking to finish any classes on the day before finals day?

Kjell Pettersson: When planning an event with the race director Darren Prentice I work back from the final day to the start of the event. We want to get each class down to a manageable level for the final day, not finish any of them before. The Sportsmen are the backbone of the sport, so we want to be as fair as we can. We'll see how the events go in 2004 and if we don't get it right then we will change it again.

Eurodragster: What lessons did Svensk Dragracing learn from changing the Veidec Nitro Festival to four days, and can they be applied to races at SPR?

Kjell Pettersson: Of course I am involved at the event at Mantorp Park too, and I have learnt a lot by being part of the organisation of that event. The organisers were running out of time to get it all done in three days so I suggested that we should try four days. In the first year of the four-day event the Thursday was rained out, which put the pressure back on. But I think that this year's event showed a bit what we are aiming for and that with time we could have more entries and still give all parties involved a fair return. We're not there yet, but we are making changes over time and hopefully with continuous support from spectators, media, teams and sponsors we will be were we want to be soon.

Eurodragster: Is this change going to lead to others, for example Pro-class only events?

Kjell Pettersson: Things will continue to change every year if necessary to meet the demands of society and our clients. I cannot however see that there will be Pro-only events; what can I see is that the last day of the events might have to change to be even more Pro-oriented. But this would depend a lot on how quickly teams can turn round between rounds, and the growth in number of Pro teams. We ourselves are looking at speeding up the clean-up from oildowns for example, and we are investing in equipment so that this hopefully happens, and so that we can hopefully give our all of our clients an even more action-packed weekend of racing. The day we can turn around Top Fuellers and the other professional classes in between seventy five and ninety minutes then it might be a different story, but I can't see it being Pro-only for some years, if ever. We are not going to do away with the Sportsmen racers. We have to look after drag racing, our racers, our public, our sponsors and our media and but they all have different requirements and it isn't easy to please all of them with the same solutions.

Eurodragster: Will the track surface and the facility overall require any more preparation for a four-day as opposed to a three-day event?

Kjell Pettersson: The basic track preparation is no different, you just have the expense of an extra day. The European Finals will effectively be five days next season since the Press Day will remain on the Wednesday, then the race starts on the Thursday. Of course you have to remember that we will have had the Professional Test and Run What You Brung on the preceding weekend, so there is a lot of work for a lot of people on the Monday and Tuesday when they are already busy: Our year - which we are very much looking forward to - starts with the Run What You Brung on 25th January and if you look at the calendar on our web site at www.santapod.com you will see that there are not many days free in 2004.

Eurodragster: What effect will the additional expense of the event have on ticket prices?

Kjell Pettersson: The events are going to cost more to put on, as there will be an extra day. But we see this as an investment into the future of the events and into European Drag Racing, and hopefully by making these events even more entertaining with the change to four days the attendance will increase and it will pay for the extra day. We also would like to show our spectators what we can do before we start charging them for it. Our prices have increased slightly for next year, in line with inflation, as our suppliers and sub-contractors have all increased their prices to us, but that is all: a four-day weekend pass will, in my opinion, be extremely good value at £47 in advance which includes four days of racing, three nights of camping, etc. etc.

Eurodragster: I don't think that anyone would argue that that is very good value indeed and, as always, compares very favourably with other forms of motorsport. Thank you very much indeed for your time, Kjell.

Kjell Pettersson: You are welcome, and I would like to thank Eurodragster for the work you are doing for European Drag Racing.

Eurodragster: Thank you!

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Interview ©Eurodragster.com

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