Outgoing Willowbank chief looks back on proud achievements
DEPARTING Willowbank Raceway manager Steve Bettes can look back with pride at eight years of innovation as he moves on to new challenges.
Mr Bettes took on the role in May 2005 and has left the position where he enjoyed many highlights.
Acting Willowbank Raceway management committee president Tony Wedlock said Mr Bettes had played a crucial role in working hard "to steer the Willowbank Raceway facility through some tough times and achieve some very strong highs".
The QT spoke to Mr Bettes about what he considered to be the achievements he was most proud of.
"In international racing we brought out Gary Densham and he achieved the first four second Nitro Funny Car pass at Willowbank Raceway, which was a great achievement," he said.
"Interestingly enough, I was the manager at Calder Park Raceway when the Top Fuel Dragster ran its first-ever four second pass.
"One of the next biggest things we were able to achieve was the brand-new American Compulink timing system and new scoreboards. The original ones had been there since Willowbank was built and in 2009 we were able to upgrade that to the highest level of technology in the sport currently."
Sponsorship in the sporting landscape is always a competitive marketplace and Mr Bettes was successful in bringing big names to major events.
"The Winternationals had a sponsor relationship that varied from one year to the next, but I was able to bring Castrol in as the major sponsor of the Winternationals for many years.
"When they moved on we were able to negotiate a new deal with Fuchs Lubricants," Mr Bettes said.
"We were also able to bring major sponsors to other major events, such as Enzed to the Nightfire New Year's Series.
"In eight years we took the Winternationals to be the largest drag racing event outside the US and attracted 600 competitors. In the good years, prior to being affected by rain, we had crowds of 35,000 to 40,000 people."
Under Mr Bettes' stewardship Willowbank was able to bring some innovation in the presentation of drag racing events.
"My opinion is that the whole sport needs a whole new look, feel and presentation for the race fans and the public," he said.
"I think we achieved that this year with the introduction of the Super 3 Extreme Drag Race which was sponsored by Santo's Cranes.
"The feedback we received on email and Facebook was outstanding," he said.
"One of my favourite comments was that 'Willowbank took drag racing to the night club', which we did with a lot of coloured lights, great music and video graphics onto big screens. It made it a much more exciting event. That is when we had American Larry Dixon here for the event, the most highly credentialled top fuel racer that has ever been in Australia. He also recorded a brand new national record of 4.5 seconds at that event."
Mr Bettes said it had been "a very rewarding eight years" and it was now time for new blood.
"I think the venue needs new thoughts and ideas," he said.
"I want to do something else...maybe in the commercial world."
Willowbank Raceway management committee is recruiting a replacement for Mr Bettes.