By Arianna Maugeri, European Business Development Manager
They're Drag Racing Big Time in Sweden: Even though Sweden has two well-known domestic car manufacturers in Volvo and Saab, American cars have always captured a major market share in the sales of new cars, especially after the World War II—through the 1950s and 1960s. This phenomenon put a large number of American cars on the used market, which attracted young enthusiasts to build custom cars and hot rods. Interest kept growing, and this phenomenon evolved into a real lifestyle among young people. In the mid and late 1970s, during the international oil crisis, Sweden was unique in the worldwide automotive market in that it remained a strong market for American muscle cars from the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Thousands of those muscle cars were imported to Sweden, and many of them naturally ended up in drag strips. Stefan Boman, a Swedish writer and photographer who has covered European motorsport for more than 25 years, explained, "Even today, in Sweden, the number of American car enthusiasts is by far the highest than in any other European country. Keeping in mind that Sweden is quite a small country with only nine million total population, the size of this interest is even more outstanding. There are car clubs, car shows, and meetings all over Sweden, where the biggest events can attract thousands of cars. This general interest in American cars made the step to drag racing quite easy to take."
Sweden's inaugural drag racing event, "The First Go," took place in 1968, using the straight part of the newly built road course at Anderstorp (later host for Formula 1 Grands Prix 1973–1978). The popularity of drag racing has been growing ever since, and Sweden has become the strongest nation in European drag racing competition. Since the start of the FIA series in 1994, there has been 54 championship Swedish winners in the different classes.
In Sweden, the racing season starts in April and ends in September. There are about 40 to 50 events per year, with 100 to 150 participants in each event on average.
"At the annual FIA European Drag Racing event at Mantorp Park, there are usually 350 participants, with drivers from Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, Holland, England, Greece, Italy, and sometimes also from the US. Small local events attract about 2000 to 5000 spectators, and the major domestic and international events can attract 15,000 to 25,000 spectators," noted Boman.
Playing a key role in the development of Swedish drag racing is the Swedish Drag Racing Committee, which is part of the Swedish Automobile Sport Federation (Svenska Bilsportförbundet), the main sanctioning body that oversees all motorsports in the country.
Lars Pettersson, chairman of the Swedish Drag Racing Committee and a member of the FIA Drag Racing World Commission, said, "The goal of our Committee is to develop drag racing on a national level, attracting more participants, spectators, and corporate sponsors to the sport. We work closely with young people to facilitate their entrance into the sport in order to guarantee the growth of it. We also promote common rules and car classes in Finland, Norway, Denmark, and England to make it easier for international competition on all levels, making sure that safety is a priority in every event.
"We have been working with NHRA for many years," continued Pettersson. "NHRA, in fact, gives us input and help every time we have to make decisions regarding rules and adjustments of them. We have the same structure in the classes: ET bracket down to 6.00 seconds, Junior Dragster, Super Street, Super Gas and Super Comp, Stock/Super Stock Competition, Top Methanol Funny Car, Top Methanol Dragster, Pro Modified, Pro Stock, Nitro Funny Car and Top Fuel."
The Drag Racing Committee has been a member of the SFI Foundation's safety program since 1989. "The quality in the cars and in the equipment has gone to a higher level and we are confident that this is part of the reason why the sport is so safe. SFI and other members have helped us adjust rules in the right direction. Swedish chassis builder Mats Eriksson, for example, is one of the five permanent members of the SFI chassis committee that, with his knowledge and contacts among other chassis builders, has made a big contribution in the development of safety," said Pettersson.
In drag racing, most teams buy almost everything from the US. Michael Malmgren, two-time FIA Pro Stock champion, said, "Manufacturers of performance parts in the US don't have a full understanding of the size of the European and Swedish markets. Many European drag racers travel frequently to the US and buy parts, equipment, and sometimes the whole cars during their stay. Others buy from Internet stores and speed shops that specialize in export. In any case, the sales numbers end up in the domestic US statistics and not in the European market statistics as they should."
This tendency to underestimate the Swedish drag market was confirmed by Lars Pettersson, too. With many years of working with aftermarket drag racing companies in the US and having come to the PRI Trade Show several times, he still sees many opportunities of growth for US parts manufacturers in the European drag racing market and in the Swedish market in particular.
SMI Organizes Swedish Motorsport Industry: To operate and be competitive in the global racing market, motorsport companies around the world have always felt the need to gather under one national association. In response to this need, in June 2007, the Swedish Motorsport Industry (SMI) was founded as the organization that supports the endeavors and objectives of Swedish racing companies.
Tony Ring, CEO of the SMI, explained, "The idea of creating an independent organization for the Swedish motorsport industry is old, but it didn't become a reality until I met Magnus Öhrström from the Swedish Autosport Federation in 2007. We got great support from the Federation to make a survey, and in March 2007, we had a productive informal meeting in Gothenburg with no less than 40 representatives from the industry, And finally, in June 2007, we officially established the organization."
In a country with about 25,000 licensed race drivers, with from 5 to 10 driving school facilities, and where the most important racing series is the Swedish Touring Car Championship (STCC AB), the mission of the SMI is to raise the status of the Swedish motorsport industry nationally and internationally.
"At the moment, we can count about 73 members in our association, which are mainly manufacturing and service companies, race tracks, racing and rally teams. The Swedish Autosport Federation, the Swedish Touring Car Championship, and race tracks such as the Mantorp Park, the Scandinavian Raceway, the Karlskoga Motorstadion, the Ring Knutstorp, and the Sturup Raceway are just some of the members of the SMI," said Ring.
The main goal of the SMI is to inform, assist and encourage its members in all aspects of their business development, with emphasis on exports and deals with authorities. "We understand that the main needs of our members are to find quick and easy ways to work together," said Ring. "Today, many products are so complex that sometimes you need input and support from sources outside your own organization to operate in the market.
"We have also seen a need to get more and more support on aspects that are not completely related to the development and production areas, but mostly with the marketing, administration, and governmental side of the business," continued Ring. "At SMI, we are working very hard to unite and strengthen the Swedish industry so that everybody can benefit from the heritage and the success of companies like Öhlins Racing AB, SKF, Peltor, and Setrab."
He explained, "The Swedish racing companies have generally a very high quality and technical level. There is also a deep heritage of arranging world-class racing events and developing successful racing and rally drivers. Those two factors have grown the industry in several ways, and boosted the interest for companies to be involved in Swedish motorsport."
The SMI, in fact, is working to clarify the motorsport industry's benefits to its members in promoting their interests in the media, as well as government policies and programs. "We try to achieve our goals in many ways, but especially in maintaining good relations with the government, the European parliament and other such powerful institutions; offering networking opportunities with key players in the motorsport industry and creating business opportunities through meetings, seminars, and participation in trade shows.
"We work with the MIA (UK's Motorsport Industry Association) and the North Carolina Motorsport Association, and this year we have organized about 10 networking meetings, one big conference in April and we have attended several trade shows," said Ring.
In addition, the SMI adds strength and substance to the image of the Swedish motorsport industry in the international arena, encouraging exports.
"We constantly try to understand the members' specific requests, and we offer advice and support to young people who can imagine a future in the industry, working closely with technical colleges and universities," added Ring.
The PRI Trade Show is definitely on the SMI's list of priorities. "Attending the PRI Trade Show is one of the priorities in the agenda of the SMI, in order to present our members worldwide in a professional way," he concluded.