Craig Murto: The racing industry 2016 forecast

The annual Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis every December bustles with activity.

Exhibitors flock to the PRI Show to display their wares, and attendees flock to the show to get a jump on the following season. Distributors secure their deals with suppliers. Racers take in the new products. Business happens. The show is a good barometer to use when measuring the health of the racing industry.

“I think from a parts standpoint it’s very healthy; people need parts to go racing,” Bob Dillner said of the racing industry.

A television personality invested in short track racing through 51 Sports and Speed51.com, Dillner noted that racers themselves may continue to struggle somewhat in today’s economic climate. But as technology advances forward, racers continue to look for an advantage.

“If you look at the PRI Show it’s more packed than ever before,” Dillner observed, noting that racers scarf up the new technology they believe will help their performance. “That’s good for the companies involved because they’re taking in more revenue. I think from a business standpoint it’s very good and it’s improving. From a racer’s standpoint it’s still a little bit difficult, and we need to find out how to balance the two.”

Lynnie Doughton, of DRP Performance Products, knows about balance; much of what he sells racers helps balance their setups. He says that currently the scales favor dirt racing, and that overall pavement Late Models are competing in fewer total laps nationwide than ever before.

But never fear: Doughton sees many regions holding their own with sustained car counts, and notes that everything runs in cycles. The “asphalt market is absolutely coming back,” he said.

C.J. Jones of Jones Racing Products had a good 2015 season, and for him 2016 also looks pretty well.

“We introduced a lot of new products, and it was a solid business move for us,” Jones said. “We see the racing growing in our area, and it seems like it is in other areas, too. I think it’s going to be a really good ’16.”

Ricky Sanders of Pitboxes.com doesn’t have a crystal ball, but he sees good things in the future.

“It’s been really good for us, we’ve been busy all year, pretty steady,” Sanders said. “I had a real good show out at SEMA and this show here at PRI’s been really good. All indications are that 2016 will be just as good or better.”

Scott Junod with American Racer said, “It (2015) was a challenging year, as they all are. We faced a lot of challenges with the weather in the upper and lower Midwest, which really hurt dirt racing out there because of the rain. But all in all, we had a very good year.”

Racers run on tires, so any business that sells race tires is in a good position to judge where things are headed.

“We feel the industry is continuing to rebound from six or eight years ago when the economy was in a tough position,” Junod observed. “How does 2016 look? It appears there’s a lot of activity late; you would think there would be a lot of activity earlier than now at the show. But an awful lot of leads and an awful lot of discussion are going on right here at the show, so we’re really pleased with it.”

Howe Racing’s Chas Howe was pleased with the 2015 his company experienced.

“For us, 2015 was very good, one of our better years,” Howe said. “It’s gotten better because it’s become more of a global market for us.”

Howe noted that in the United States they’ve had to “go to new places” to increase their business because “some of the more traditional stuff is still struggling.” But, he said, “Overall, motorsports worldwide is growing.”

Brian Hoppe doesn’t worry about motorsports worldwide, but he does worry about short track racing. Once he hung up his helmet after a successful career in Late Models, he showed up at the track representing Essex Parts Services. In 2015 he attended a number of races, including the Snowball Derby.

“We grew a little bit in 2015; it was a good year for us,” Hoppe said. “The (PRI) show has been good. In 2016 I think we’ll see a little growth. I think we’ll see this market continue to grow. It’ll be in really small increments, not like we’re used to, but it will steadily get better. I think we’ll see a slight increase in 2016; I think that’s all we can ask for. Look at this show; there’s a lot of people here. You can’t tell me this is all bad.”

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.