by Andy Rogers
With many thousands of readers every day, Eurodragster.com is by far the no.1 news site for European drag racing.. The Editors Diary article series is both entertaining and informative and we hope you like the sharing from editors Tog, Ed (US based correspondent) and Simon (Pit Notes Gallery) and last but not least photographer Kirstie as much as we do!
September 16th 2012
The FIA European Finals was Your Reporter's fourth weekend in five at the track. You might be forgiven for thinking that I was totally fed-up with drag racing by then, but actually I went into the race relaxed and looking forward to another four days of hard work.
So what was the trick? What started the process for me was attending the Run What You Brung, VW Action and Peak Performance Day the weekend before the Finals. With our coverage commitment very light on this weekend I could just please myself and what a leisurely weekend I had. If I fancied taking pictures then I took pictures (although I'll come back to that). If I fancied sitting and watching then I sat and watched. If I fancied wandering around the pits or visiting the Café for a twelve-inch hot dog then I wandered around the pits or visited the Café. To be at the track without the pressure of live coverage was a perfect tonic after the very busy weekends at Hockenheim and Tierp, and not for the first time I fell in love with the sport all over again. Saturday's RWYB gave way to the very enjoyable VW Action night session which also featured the Supercharged Outlaws, a class I adore, and the atmosphere that evening was excellent - I have said before and will likely say again that for atmosphere you can't beat a VW event. It's just one huge party, it's the law. Sunday's Peak Performance Day was a more serious affair but still very enjoyable.
Speaking of falling in love, I suspect that Kirstie has fallen head over heels with my pride and joy, a Nikon D3100 camera acquired as part of a sponsorship deal with Landmeco. As regular readers will recall, Kirstie's camera failed at Hockenheim and our good friend Markus Munch came to the rescue there. At Tierp I lent Kirstie my D3100 and she gave it back only reluctantly after prducing pictures of such quality that you would have thought that she had always been using the thing.
In the meantime our US Correspondent Ed O'Connell, upon hearing of the failure of Kirstie's camera at Hockenheim, parcelled up his spare Nikon body and lenses and air-mailed them across the Atlantic to us - how about that for friendship - but the gentlemen of HM Customs and Excise, who obviously didn't know who we are, retained the parcel until a hefty duty fee had been paid. In fact they took a very long time to bother telling us that they had the parcel and to demand the money. With my point-and-shoot camera out on loan Kirstie and I had one serious camera between us at the pre-Finals test weekend. It was all handled in the proper manner though, i.e. I did what Kirstie told me. We took turns with the camera and the only debate was over who photographed the Saturday night racing session; Kirstie won that particular battle of wills and there was a sound like velcro separating as I surrendered the camera to her that evening.
I had a day at home (although Mrs Tog wondered aloud why I didn't just stay at the track after the test weekend) and then drove back up to Santa Pod Raceway on the Tuesday, arriving just as the kettle boiled in the Barn. A number of the SPRC marshals were already there - in fact I don't think some of them had gone home since the weekend - and they were cheerfully busying themselves with various tasks from painting the start line area to changing bulbs on the scoreboard, pitting racers who were turning up very early, running the sweepers around the facility and so on.
Freshly-painted start line
I am not a big believer in standing watching others work, a peculiarly British phenomenon, but sometimes I think that the public should be invited in to Santa Pod just before a big event to see all the work which goes on, a lot of it by volunteers taking time off from their day jobs. The office was similarly a hive of activity. I ran the webcam for a few hours so that people could catch a glimpse of the work in progress and I played some of Gilbert and Sullivan's finest as a soundtrack. The latter inevitably generated some comment from the philistines amongst our viewership.
One very early and equally welcome arrival was the advance guard of the Andersen Racing Top Fuel Dragster team who have been much-missed this year. It was nice to have the time to shoot the breeze with Karsten Andersen; after a short while Rune Fjeld appeared and there was some very enjoyable banter between the pair of them including a superbly-worded cadge of a can of Danish beer by Rune. All of this was, of course, taking place in glorious weather which helped the relaxed air.
The Andersen Racing Top Fuel Dragster team arrived at Santa Pod on the Tuesday of Finals week
With Kirstie on her day job on the Wednesday it was down to Your Reporter to photograph the Pro Racer Test and Tune, so that was the day upon which my photographic skills, such as they are, deserted me. I don't photograph that often but you have days at the track when you get the shot even if you're not looking at the camera when you point it, but you also have days when you do everything correctly but the shots just don't work. The Test and Tune started in Column B and there was a lot of bad language. Cars and bikes were off-centre, I left it too late so that they spilled out of frame etc. After lunch I moved from the left lane to the right, because as the sun passes over the track the light goes from one lane to the other, and the photography picked up some from then on. It seems that I am a better photographer when vehicles are going left to right than I am when they are going right to left. These Test Days tend to be quite laid-back with some gaps between vehicles so it was a leisurely affair, again in nice weather.
Pho-TOG-rapher - Tog on a rare trackside outing
Simon and Kirstie turned up all smiles on the Thursday morning and we got to work on our Alamo Rent A Car-sponsored live coverage of the FIA European Finals. Santa Pod's PR Caroline Day kindly accredited Kirstie to work on the start line on the Thursday since she was our sole photographer that day. Patrik Jacobsson, who has helped us out before now, was due to join the team for Friday to Sunday and was facing a busy weekend as he was also photographing for Speedgroup. After Patrik arrived he worked the start line whilst Kirstie worked the collection area and went down to the shutdown area to get parachute and driver / crew shots. Patrik's workrate was prodigious and he was very generous with his shots. I don't know how he did it but I was receiving a large file of pictures after the morning Pro sessions and then another large file of pictures at close of play. Like Patrik's work, Kirstie's parachute and driver / crew shots generated a lot of positive feedback although Kirstie herself seemed unhappy with her pictures for reasons I know not, since everyone else loved them.
Simon meanwhile was doing his usual tireless job getting pit notes. I really don't know where he gets his energy. He was spending whole days either on his feet talking to racers or sitting next to me typing up his notes, and then at the end of the day he was going back to the pits to visit Eurodragster.com Blogger and Pro Modified racer Andy Frost for daily Blog updates. On one day of the race Simon went to the far end of the track to get immediate reactions from racers after their runs. Upon his return I asked him how he had got on and he came out with an astounding number of notes to type up, seventy eight if I remember rightly. A couple of races ago I finally worked out (after everyone else had been laughing behind ther hands for ages) that Simon, knowing that I hate to hear weather forecasts, had a code phrase to the rest of the team for "It's going to rain tomorrow", namely the announcement "I will leave some pit notes to do first thing in the morning". This has now become a standing joke and in the glorious sunshine at the Finals I frequently asked Simon how many pit notes he was leaving for the morning. The funniest part was that after one long day he actually did leave some pit notes for the next day and I lay awake for some of that night worrying. It turned out, however, that Simon was simply shagged out which we I think we can allow him.
With a direct link to the TSI Timers system Your Reporter had an easier time of it than at recent races although I still calculated the Pro qualifying standings manually rather than copy and paste them - it’s a point of pride. When I can't do it any more then I will know it's time to stop. You can all join in with me on which are the worst classes upon which to report in real time and, sure enough, during both Q3 and Q4 I found myself two Pro Stock Bike pairs behind as we went into Supertwin. That got a bit hairy but I managed to catch up by the time we got a couple of pairs into Top Fuel Bike. The trick is to keep calm. The TSI Timers system came into its own for the Sportsman qualifying and eliminations as its facility to create text files whose contents can then be pasted into the live report meant that the Sportsmen got the full coverage which is only fair.
At the start of Finals week we received a press release saying that the Web TV would not be happening. The question of why can be answered by others but it did mean that by the kind approval of SPR our own Webster Race Engineering / Nimbus Motorsport webcam would be broadcasting throughout the event. I am often asked what I think about paying for Web TV, and sometimes those asking are genuinely interested in what I think rather than just trying to get me to say something indiscreet. My reply is that for a service of the quality provided by Rally Action and Smart TV you should expect to pay: you get what you pay for and the amount involved is far less than a ticket to the event. If it is acceptable to pay extra to subscribe to ESPN to get NHRA drag racing on satellite or cable then it is acceptable to pay for the Web TV: I see no difference between the two. Although Eurodragster.com could do with the money we do not charge for our own webcast because it is sponsored and because we can't charge for our one or two static cameras and lower-definition signal when the same money would buy you so much more with the Web TV.
We ran our standard single-camera webcast of the test weekend and Pro Racer Test and Tune Day but for the race proper I sub-contracted the Webster Race Engineering / Nimbus Motorsport webcast to Maikel and the guys at Doyousee.me. It was one less thing for me to worry about at such a busy event and Maikel's kit is so much better than ours. Julian of Nitro FM and Maikel spoke about access to Nitro FM's satellite link and before I knew it we were broadcasting in higher definition with stereo sound. Maikel added a camera looking over the collection area, which he had in a small picture-in-picture in the main shot, and this again proved very popular with our viewers.
Only one real problem arose with the webcast over the weekend which was on the Sunday when the signal started to stutter and both Julian and Maikel were pulling their hair out (a task with varying degrees of difficulty) trying to find the cause, since their signal analysis programs and other clever stuff were all reporting that everything was OK. I have spent the best part of thirty years working in IT and I can tell you that it is very much like being married: you know that something is wrong, but if you don't know what it is then the kit is not going to tell you. In addition, IT kit does not respond to flowers or chocolates and suitably penitent behaviour. After an hour or more of feverish investigation Julian and Maikel discovered that a piece of network kit was overheating, as indeed was the bitch-o-meter by then. I often think that if Facebook was any real use then it would have a Retribution button, on which the target of unjustified moaning could click and the critic would receive a high-current bolt of electricity through their keyboard and/or a high-velocity slug of hot metal through the cushion of their seat.
Bitch about it or not, our trusty web stats server tells us that there were some fifty two and a half thousand views of the webcast over the four days of the race. Our coverage of FIA European Finals week generated 111,756 unique visits, 527,224 page views and 6,979,079 hits. These are quite impressive numbers. Many thanks to everyone who tuned in, to the staff of Santa Pod Raceway for facilities, to the SPRC and international race officials for their help, to the racers for giving us so much write about, and to Alamo Rent-A-Car, Webster Race Engineering, Nimbus Motorsport and Doyousee.me for their support.
Although the European Championships are done for the year some of the domestic Championships are still ongoing. The VP Racing Fuels National Finals, the final UK Championship round for cars and Top Fuel Bike, is Eurodragster.com's next date and at time of writing that is due at the end of the week. Hopefully we'll see you there, if not then stay tuned to Eurodragster.com as we are giving it the full live coverage treatment.