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Racing Moves Indoors For PRI Show

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 9 2009
Jamie McMurray will take his go-kart skills to Orlando this week to drive in the all-star race at the PPI Show. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Jamie McMurray will take his go-karting skills to Orlando this week to drive in the all-star race at the PRI show. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

Most everyone who watches and cares about racing thinks of December as the quietest month of the year for the sport.

After all, the seasons are over, the awards have all been handed out by the early part of the month, very little, if any, testing is allowed and the holidays take up a big part of the 31 days.

But there are definitely some racing-related activities going on.

The Motor Sports Business Forum for North America began Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., kicking off five days of such activities that culminate with the biggest motorsports trade show in the world.

This is the 22nd year for the Performance Racing Industry trade show, which has grown from a 300-booth startup in Louisville to the 3,000 booths that open this week in Orlando.

Steve Lewis, a longtime midget team owner (Nine Racing) who had a big hand in the early careers of drivers like Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Jason Leffler, Mike Bliss, J.J. Yeley and Bobby East, is the producer and owner of the show.

Lewis said the PRI show filled a niche.

“The manufacturers of the hardcore racing products were ready to find a venue where they could distribute their products into the marketplace, and a trade show offers that opportunity,’’ Lewis explained.

“Because I raced, I was attuned to the market in the 80s, to what was going on because I had trade show production experience,’’ Lewis explained. “So I thought, `Let’s try this.’ And we tried it and it worked.

“The show really grew in prominence because of the growth, that tremendous growth surge of the early 90s up until the early 2000s. It was a spiraling thing that paralleled the growth of the economy,’’ Lewis added.

This year, the show features more than 1,100 exhibitors showcasing products for more than 45,000 buyers – no fans – from 61 different nations. More than 100 first-time exhibitors are headed for Orlando.

Despite the reeling world economy and all kinds of major cutbacks by teams in every series, one thing that never stops is the pursuit of speed – how to go faster than the other guy.

Every team in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship had representatives at the PRI show last year, as did teams from each of NASCAR’s three major series. But this show is also one-stop shopping for smaller late-model, drag racing teams and grassroots racers.

“Everybody I know who has come to this show is completely amazed,’’ said Bob Duvall, director of weekly racing for NASCAR. “I never realized the trade industry involved in racing was this big. We’re here to build relationships with the competitors that race in our development series, as well as track operators that would be here at the trade show. It’s invaluable from our perspective.

“The International market is something we continually grow,’’ Duvall added. “Part of our booth here is representation for both our Canadian and Mexican series and we have people that stop by the booth all the time from the international perspective.”

Marc Sours, Honda’s project leader for Honda Grassroots Motorsports, is also a believer in PRI.

“Honda Performance Development will be using the 2010 PRI Show to unveil the first items in our new line of Honda-branded performance parts,’’ Sours noted. “Intended for the grassroots racer, our goal is to supply Honda quality and reliability, at an affordable price, to weekend competitors across the country who race Hondas and Acuras. We want to show that HPD’s years of experience and success at the upper levels of the sport – IndyCar, CART and American Le Mans – can be used to the benefit of the grassroots racer, and there’s no better place for that than the PRI Show.”

Lewis is proud of what he has created with PRI.

“There something very unique and special about racing that happens in no other industry, and at the consumer level, which is the racetrack, whether it at a drag racing track, Eldora Speedway, Daytona International Speedway,’’ he explained..

“Here’s what happens: Consumer A, driver A, wants to pass driver B. Driver B doesn’t want to be passed,’’ Lewis continued. “The team that owns those cars does everything they can to make sure their driver is the fastest. So, in racing, there’s this urge and desire for product development, innovation that brings people to the industry that have solutions to problems.’’

He calls the trade show a supermarket where people can bring their products and get immediate acceptance because it often provides some advantage somewhere.

“We have 1,100 exhibitors,’’ Lewis said. “I can honestly say that there is every part and piece of a race car that is covered in this show, from a go-cart right on up to an IndyCar. … We have just about every aspect of racing covered, except Formula One.

“However, we have a contingent of British exhibitors that come over and bring Formula One technology, whether its metallurgy, transmissions, electronics, data acquisition. It’s Formula One technology. A lot of the NASCAR teams, that’s the first place they go because there’s high-end engineering excellence there.’’

Lewis said the Hendrick Motorsports team, which won its ninth Cup championship and fourth in a row with Jimmie Johnson and finished 1-2-3 in the points, will be well represented at PRI.

“Hendrick is probably bringing 12 or 13 people to the show,’’ Lewis said. “They have people shopping the show from the engine perspective. They have the chassis shop and date acquisition. However the team is organized, they usually have one or two people from each area.’’

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

“There is almost no area of racing we don’t service at this show,’’ Lewis said. “We have all these variety of people, so with the exhibits we have a variety of disciplines that make up the racing industry.’’

And for those who need a little racing to make their lives complete, there is the All-Star Karting Classic Thursday night on a tight, six-turn track outside the Orange County Convention Center, where the PRI show is being held.

Among the drivers entered are Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice, Graham Rahal, Jamie McMurray and Memo Gidley.

“We have a little something for everybody,’’ Lewis noted. “It’s big business for the racing industry, but it’s also a lot of fun and very interesting for the people taking part.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 9 2009