07_02_2011_aussieMajor League drag racing in Australia has reached a critical crossroad. At issue is which direction Down Under drag racing goes. Should the sport continue as it is, a mutiny of epic proportions from within the ranks of the professional, or Group 1, racers has the potential of tearing organized competition apart.

By following the racers a precedent could be set which essentially devalues the image of the Australian National Drag Racing Association (ANDRA) as a sanctioning organization. Going in a different direction could empower the sanctioning body, with all parties placing the future of their sport in the hands of a management group whose own members admit they’re incapable of handling all aspects of the sport, from rules enforcement to marketing.


Major League drag racing in Australia has reached a critical crossroad. At issue is which direction Down Under drag racing goes. Should the sport continue as

it is, a mutiny of epic proportions from within the ranks of the professional, or Group 1, racers has the potential of tearing organized competition apart.

By following the racers a precedent could be set which essentially devalues the image of the Australian National Drag Racing Association (ANDRA) as a sanctioning organization. Going in a different direction could empower the sanctioning body, with all parties placing the future of their sport in the hands of a management group whose own members admit they’re incapable of handling all aspects of the sport, from rules enforcement to marketing.

Right now the one common denominator is that all parties agree there’s an issue with the way drag racing is being run and organized at present. This comes at a time when the V8 Supercars, Australia’s most popular racing series, is grabbing market-share hand over fist in a motorsport industry once dominated by drag racing. Essentially the V8 Supercar series has become to Australian drag racing what NASCAR has become to the NHRA.

To understand the issues, you must understand how drag racing operates Down Under.

There are essentially three entities which control drag racing in Australia. ANDRA handles the enforcement of the rules and collects the fees and related taxes from the racers.

Drag Racing Australian Group [DRAG] Limited [Ltd.] serves as the marketing arm for organized drag racing within the country and is spearheaded by the owners of the country's three major tracks, Willowbank Raceway, Perth Kwinana Motorplex, and Western Sydney International.

Last but not least are the Group 1 racers who have banded together, although there’s no official group such as the American Professional Racer’s Owner Organization [PRO] to unify them.

As things now stand the racers are revolting, arguing ANDRA and DRAG Ltd. are doing little to advance the sport to the levels it enjoyed a decade ago.

ANDRA and DRAG Ltd. contend they are doing the best they can in a complex world economy.



a d v e r t i s e m e n t

Click to visit our sponsor's website


Phil Lamattina, a Top Fuel driver and team co-owner racing in the ANDRA series, has taken matters into his own hands by organizing the racers' marketing

Steve Bettes, Managing Director, Willowbank Raceway QLD believes the largest issue has been communication, or lack thereof. The board member with the reorganized ANDRA group believes steps are being taken which will rectify the situation.
“The years we’ve been involved in the sport, we’ve been continually frustrated,” said Lamattina. “Unfortunately, the promoter is the track owner. That creates a situation where there aren’t opportunities for expansion to market the sport as a true national series. It’s come to a point where the Group 1 competitors are just sick of the direction in which we’re being led.”

Lamattina believes the series’ downsizing over the last decade remains a source of his group’s ire. ANDRA staged ten races in 2005 and over the last six years has dropped from eight to seven and now six in 2011.

“It’s hard to take that to sponsors and be taken seriously,” Lamattina said.

Lamattina and his associates met with the Group 1 racers Saturday during the rain-delayed Castrol Edge Winternationals to unveil a new marketing plan which inevitably could lead to a new series and more opportunities for the Group 1 racers to compete.

“The racers needed a direction,” Lamattina said. “We’ve formed this with all racers as shareholders. This is a true national marketing arm that can go to the sponsors with a national series. Right now, our series has no true direction.”

Steve Bettes, an executive for DRAG Ltd. who also holds a position on the new ANDRA board, agrees Australian drag racing has its share of problems with communication serving as the largest obstacle.

“I think the largest problem has been communications,” Bettes said. “It has been tough for DRAG Ltd. to get the marketing and the television rights for our sport. In trying to do that, and in also keeping the tracks running, and keep ANDRA going, we’ve been so focused on what we are trying to deliver to the sport that the communication has suffered.

“Everyone at DRAG Ltd. will raise their hands in agreement that the communication hasn’t been done very well. That’s been the core problem with the dissatisfaction of the competitors. They feel simply they haven’t been told enough of what is going on.”



a d v e r t i s e m e n t

Click to visit our sponsor's website



tonythornton1-277x299On Friday, the Board of the Australian National Drag Racing Association Ltd announced the retirement of its long serving Chief Executive Officer Tony Thornton.

A former national record holder and Divisional Director in South Australia Tony was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of ANDRA in 1988. At the time of his appointment ANDRA was in a very difficult position and Tony led the revival of the sport and the development of ANDRA to be one of Australia's most respected governing bodies of a motor sport.

Since the early 90's Tony has represented ANDRA internationally as a Foundation member of the FIA Drag Racing Commission.

ANDRA Chairman Simon Pinnock said "Tony has been a stalwart of the drag racing industry for over 25 years and the sport owes him a debt of gratitude for his valuable contribution and service."


For Bettes and his group, the economic downturn of the last few years couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“This has caused things to not work at the speed they should happen,” admitted Bettes. “We should be a lot further down the road than we are now. Our lack of communication has contributed to that, so have the global markets and the changing face of television programming.”

Three years ago, Bettes and his group faced the challenge of finding a suitable television replacement when their coverage partner, Channel 9, informed them at the last minute they no longer had room for the sport in their programming.

“Not having a television program would have caused a big headache,” Bettes said. “We had to go out and secure alternative programming, which cost a whole lot more money.”

Clearly, this was a situation in which ANDRA had to buy the broadcast time rather than the more ideal scenario of being paid a rights fee by broadcasters eager to televise the series.  It is the worst possible scenario for a racing organization, because all of the power rests with the broadcasters rather than the organization itself.

Outside of the money, the search for new programming cost the already understaffed ANDRA and DRAG Ltd. groups precious marketing time when the world economy faced a crisis.

The television coverage was procured with Australia’s Channel 10 and One HD, at a high cost, in monetary and market-share terms. The V8 Supercars marketing machine took the inside track and aced ANDRA/DRAG Ltd. out of the marketing fast lane.

Adding to the racer resentment, the added cost of the new television show was passed on to the racers. The contributions came from increased fees for licensing and entry fees for the last few years.

“That has caused dissatisfaction amongst the racers because they want to know what they are getting,” Bettes said. “DRAG Ltd.’s attitude is that they are getting national television programming. [Our television] is pretty successful and one of the best in the world. We do that so the racers can go out and get sponsorships. There are some teams out there with deals because of the television (exposure).

“There are a lot of teams out there without sponsorship because they can’t get the backing because [the television] hasn’t been as good as we wanted it to be in terms of eyeballs watching the show.”



a d v e r t i s e m e n t

Click to visit our sponsor's website



Victor Bray, an iconic Australian drag racer, is to the ANDRA series what John Force is to the NHRA. He’s stuck in the middle of the controversy, torn between

Victor Bray believes neither the promoters or racers are facing the source of Australian drag racing’s shortcomings, another series has taken the inside track on their marketshare.
his fellow racers and the promoters. He believes neither side is facing the source of Australian drag racing’s shortcomings.

“To be fair, we’ve got a big gorilla in the room called V8 Supercars, which locks up a lot of the motorsports credibility, sponsorship money and television,” said Bray, driver of the Sidchrome [Aussie version of MAC Tools] 1957 Chevrolet. “That’s fine, and we accept that because the Americans have NASCAR to deal with.

“The bottom line is that the racers want good management of the sport, and we don’t feel like we are getting the best possible effort with the apparent lack of money in the sport and sponsorship credibility at the highest levels. We want the sport to be operated and marketed as a professional effort. About ten years ago, the sport reached a crossroads where we were a bunch of guys racing our cars and having a good time. All of a sudden the professionalism has skyrocketed and now you have 20 cars in some classes trying to qualify for eight-car fields. The management just has not kept up with it.”

Bray admits he may be straddling the fence but leans more towards his fellow racers when they say the sponsorships are there to be had but the activation isn’t enough to inspire these companies to spend their marketing dollars. Bray laments the fact that the V8 Supercars series is where drag racing could be.

“The V8 Supercars industry claims to have around $200 million dollars worth of sponsorship programs,” Bray explained. “That’s a fair lick of sponsorship attention that our sport could be getting in what is said to be a $600 million industry. The other series is marketed extremely well. It is organized extremely well. It’s a profitable industry for all who are involved.”

The numbers back up Bray’s claims. A recent event in Adelaide drew over 250,000 spectators for a V8 Supercars race through the streets of the city.

“Good management is what made this happen,” Bray said. “We can’t run street circuits and are locked into racing on drag strips where we can’t really draw hundreds of thousands of people. We could fill the ones we have, yet we sometimes see shockingly small fan attendance.  You tell me, if we have excellent facilities and the shows are great – and the grandstands are drawing small crowds, it doesn’t take a genius to figure where the problem is. Let’s get the marketers in there and show them the problem and let them fix it.”


a d v e r t i s e m e n t

Click to visit our sponsor's website


A big part of the issue, Bray and others contend, lies in the fact ANDRA isn’t running everywhere it could, leaving key markets from the schedule. This is            where yet another wrinkle enters the controversy.

Bob Jane, Australia’s equivalent to the America’s Bruton Smith, had a falling out with ANDRA and as a result pulled his premiere facilities in Adelaide and Melbourne from the sanctioning body’s schedule. He’s since devoted his attention to circuit racing and the V8 Supercar series while the drag strips host an occasional small specialty event.

And there seems to be no resolution in sight with Jane, and to circumvent the disgruntled track owner’s position, a group has approached the Victorian state government with the intention of seeking government funding for a new track, which could join the ANDRA/DRAG Ltd. group, which according to Bettes, isn’t opposed to expanding their “not-for-profit” group.

“Melbourne is a huge market and championship drag racing hasn’t been there for ten years,” Bray said. “You need someone to come in and say this is where we need to be and we need to fix whatever issues we have. Similar to Melbourne, Adelaide has no major races there. All of this is killing drag racing here because of a personality conflict. The racers are sick of it. We want to race in those markets for our sponsors. DRAG Ltd. sees the problem too, but refuses to fix it because they won’t deal with Bob Jane.”

Some racers believe the ANDRA relationship with DRAG Ltd., creates a conflict of interest, and others believe the refusal to make it  right with Jane only substantiates their belief that a smaller ownership group equates to a larger slice of the pie for the parties involved. This is a charge Bettes, a former Bob Jane Corporation executive, adamantly denies.

“We want to have as many tracks as we can have under the umbrella,” said Bettes. “We want to absolutely be running in Melbourne and Adelaide. We now have the track in Darwin. It’s not a closed shop nor will it ever be. We want to see it grow and we are limited to the races we can run with three tracks.”

“It will not happen and it isn’t now. We are exploring opportunities with other tracks.”

Bettes, now with Willowbank Raceway, once managed Calder Park [Melbourne] for Jane.

Bray can’t help but wonder if some partnerships border on unethical.

“If we had a lawyer come into here with experience in litigating conflicts of interest, we’d have about 15 years worth of work for him,” said Bray with a smile. “That’s just in our sport.”


a d v e r t i s e m e n t

Click to visit our sponsor's website


There are those Group 1 racers who believe the presentation they are providing is the best it’s ever been. Now, they are intent on taking matters into their

Phil Lamattina by Angus MacMaster
own hands.

The racers believe the tracks have had ample to time to promote the series and failed. They want an opportunity to control the marketing end of the sport’s future.

Traditionally, in U.S. drag racing competition, racer-led series’ have ultimately proven unsuccessful. Lamattina believes his group will be the exception to past results.

“What the racers will get is a racer-led group where the competitor is the product,” Lamattina said. “We are the product and that’s what we are trying to sell. If we can get the product right and put on a show, the sponsors will be happy and the spectators will be happy. The tracks will be happy because it’s lifted the profile of the sport. When the show leaves town, they still have a product they can advertise and get the sportsman guys more excited. Maybe we can have some match racing and get some genuinely excited crowds about racing.

“Right now drag racing is struggling to draw a crowd and are relying on the big drag race meetings. They [DRAG Ltd., ANDRA] aren’t marketing it correctly. They aren’t promoting it correctly. They are not running it correctly. They are not doing anything correctly and then they complain that we aren’t doing our job right. I believe the competitor is about ten years ahead of the promoter. They asked us to lift our game, five or six years ago to be more professional, we have become more professional. They haven’t. That’s essentially what the problem is.”

Bettes believes the recent restructuring of DRAG Limited will go a long way towards restoring the trust of the racers in the group. Beginning with a name change to Pro Series Drag Racing Australia, racer input was sought during a meeting at the Castrol Edge Winternationals.

The new commission, according to Bettes, consists of equal representation from DRAG Limited and a consortium of Group 1 racers. According to Bettes, there is also a confirmed offer for Group One Representation on the DRAG Ltd board.

On the agenda will be current purse structure, television and ways to further enhance money-making opportunities for the racers. For the first time since the bickering began, drag racing’s management including ANDRA, the tracks and the racers will be in the same room attempting to iron out their differences.



a d v e r t i s e m e n t

Click to visit our sponsor's website


A majority of racers are convinced DRAG Ltd. is the bad guy in the situation and ANDRA is essentially a powerless organization. As weak as ANDRA might appear to be, the majority of the racers believe the group serves a purpose.
“We still want to be sanctioned by ANDRA because there’s nothing wrong with rules and regulations,” Lamattina pointed out.  “That part of it, we’d like to leave it the same. We want to run Group 1, we would love for ANDRA to look after the three-and-a-half thousand sportsman racers they should look after, not the 80 to 100 Group 1 racers. They are spending 90-percent of their time pleasing the tracks, trying to get us right and no one is winning. The three-and-a-half thousand members are getting left behind and paying for it too.”

Lamattina is saying to ANDRA, and Drag Ltd., “lead or get out of the way.”

“It’s been a case of the tail wagging the dog,” Lamattina said. “In other series, where do the tracks dictate to the sport where they are racing or not? This is what’s happening here. There are venues that ANDRA doesn’t sanction that we could be racing at. But, I guess they are being dictated to by the tracks, which is not good.”

Lamattina believes this situation could have been avoided if ANDRA had taken a more active role in promoting drag racing. And now, as Lamattina sees it, DRAG Ltd. has put the heavy hand on the sanctioning body and now dictates the direction of drag racing.

In empowering DRAG Ltd. to fill a void ANDRA couldn’t, Bray believes a dangerous power shift began which has caused the racers to become secondary in the grand scheme of Australian straight-line racing.

“Their main concern is to make sure their tracks stay viable and sometimes it appears to be at the cost of the racers,” Bray explained. “They almost appear to say, ‘we’re not making enough money, here’s a group we can get some money out of. Let’s up this fee. Let’s reduce this prize money.’

“That’s what the racers see. And now, it looks as if ANDRA has moved further from the racers and closer to DRAG Ltd. The racers feel ANDRA should be on their side. They feel that ANDRA should stand up for the racers. The last four or five years, they have gotten further away from the racers.”

Representatives from the ANDRA management were approached by for comment during the Castrol Edge Winternationals but declined to participate.

   As much as Bettes would love to see ANDRA take a more leadership-oriented approach, he just doesn’t see it happening for now. What might work in American drag racing doesn’t necessarily translate Down Under. He cites the success of the V8 Supercars similar structure as a reason for his belief.

“The structure just isn’t there to do that,” Bettes said. “It could be done, but the resources just aren’t there.

“I think in doing it in another entity provides strength without as many hurdles. The V8 Supercars racing operates in the very same structure [outside entity marketing the series] and it works for them.

Bettes believes when DRAG Ltd. and ANDRA formed their current working partnership, it was the best and only option available at the time for the sport.

“When ANDRA made the decision to get away from the marketing side, it was controlled by six division directors and three member track representatives. The divisional directors were not employed full time by the sanctioning body,” Bettes said. “They either had [and still do] full time businesses or regular jobs and the tracks have full-time efforts running the marketing of their tracks. The staff at ANDRA was very small at the time, maybe three or four in the office. When you compare that with the NHRA or the large organizations, I promise you there’s a few more than four people managing that program. DRAG Limited came along because it was evident ANDRA couldn’t handle it.”

In the end, Bettes believes the real issue is nothing more than a core group filled with passion for making drag racing in Australia the best it can be.

“I’ve been involved in the sport a long time, but I don’t think for a moment this is the death knell. I believe good news is coming in the next few months that will show a bright future. It’s just going to be a rocky road for a little while. We just want better communication in the future.

“Down the road there has to be a solution to this. We can’t all go to our corners and say this is the way it’s going to be. There are so many people passionate about this sport. The sport down here is no different than in the States where there’s so much passion and that drives it. There are a lot of people who are paying the bills out of their pockets and to do that, you have to have a passion. Sometimes passion can create conflict. I think there’s been many wars in this world created out of passion.”

And when the final sword has been drawn, and cannon fired, all parties genuinely hope the victor doesn’t come to the post-war conclusion their success was nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory.