Murto: Racing industry is strong

The 26th Annual Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show in Indianapolis last week proves that despite the sluggish economy, the racing industry is strong.

PRI is the annual gathering of gear heads that is like no other. Unlike the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas — which concentrates on aftermarket parts and therefore has its share of fuzzy dice and spinner wheels on display — PRI is strictly for the hardcore racing industry.

The first PRI Show was held in Columbus, Ohio, but it quickly outgrew that city and moved to Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Convention Center, however, became too small for the show and a number of years ago it moved to Orlando, Fla.

Orlando has wonderful weather, but it just wasn’t a racing town. And it wasn’t centrally located. There were some deals to be had regarding hotel rates because December is the off-season, but restaurants were always pricey and the town just didn’t feel as welcoming to racers as Indy.

Then for a couple of years Tony Stewart invested in a competing show, the International Motorsport Industry Show (IMIS), which he held in Indy. Two competing December shows — even when they were held on different weekends — confused attendees and manufacturers, many of whom chose one show or the other.

Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Convention Center expanded, as the old football stadium was torn down and an addition to the convention center took its place.

SEMA purchased PRI, purchased IMIS, and placed them both back in Indy under the traditional PRI name. PRI has always been the largest racing trade show in the world, and the 2013 version was the largest ever.

An estimated 40,000 “buyers” from race teams and motorsport industries were on the floor during the three-day show. Almost 1,200 exhibitors occupied 3,300 booth spaces. In fact, the current convention center may not be large enough, as some exhibitors were shoved in smaller adjoining rooms apart from the two main large halls that were completely filled.

Attendees must prove that they own, manage or are employed by a company in the racing industry. Nobody under the age of 16 is allowed to attend, so some attendees were there on behalf of their younger children, such as former NASCAR star Ernie Irvan, who was there to firm up supplies and support for his son Jared’s budding career.

PRI is hardcore, so personalities in the racing industry abound. This is not a fan show; everybody in attendance has a purpose in the industry. But we all started as fans at one point, so it’s still an awe-inspiring experience to see such a large portion of the racing industry under one roof.

Richard Petty was on hand as Ford used the show to unveil the 2014 Mustang. Joe Nemechek was seen wandering the hall, working for his race team and for his son, John Hunter Nemechek. Randy Lajoie was working in his Joie of Seating display, fitting racers for their new seat purchases. It was wonderful to run into dirt late Model racer Rick Eckert and his wife at the show, and to offer an annual holiday greeting to racer and chassis builder Jim Bernheisel.

Tony Kanaan was on hand to officially announce that he’ll race for Chip Ganassi in 2014. Regional road racer Jeff Werth stated that he is considering racing with the Trans-Am Series next season.

One of the biggest surprises at the show was the strong presence of the Trans-Am series, the rejuvenated historic road racing competition. Both Howe Racing and Port City Racecars — builders of pavement short-track stock car chassis — had Trans-Am cars on display in their booths, indicating that the series has enough momentum that chassis builders want their share of the market.

There were some unexpected challenges faced by this year’s show, handed down by Mother Nature. Thursday’s show opening greeted exhibitors and attendees with single-digit temperatures. And by Saturday’s closing day snow had fallen to keep the Saturday crowd a bit lighter than usual.

But the manufacturers asked on Saturday all were hopeful for the racing industry in 2014. All were glad the PRI Show was back in Indianapolis, and all were satisfied with the amount of traffic their booth received during the three days, even with the challenging weather. It appears that the racing industry is strong.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.