Indy car legend Rick Mears and NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon helped pace the start of the 2016 Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show with an unforgettable appearance at the Show's Grand Opening Breakfast in the Indiana Convention Center's Sagamore Ballroom Thursday morning. Hosted by MAVTV’s Dave Despain, this year's traditional kickoff event featured a lively hour-long talk show-style program with two of the best to ever pilot a race car.
“Day One of the 2016 PRI Show exceeded our expectations,” said PRI General Manager Bill Miller. “Rick Mears and Jeff Gordon set the tone at the opening breakfast, and on the show floor the day was filled with business and networking. There are so many new products debuting, lots of great seminars to attend and race professionals to meet with.”
At the breakfast, a packed ballroom, some 3000 strong, sat in rapt attention as the newly retired Gordon and iconic Mears discussed their respective beginnings, career highlights, professional influences (Mears is one of Gordon's heroes, we learned) and previously untold tales from a pair of accomplished-it-all competitors.
"The Grand Opening Breakfast — and I've been to most of them — is a great meal, and it's a good time to meet new friends. You have Dave Despain, who always has interesting guests and you’re entertained, and then you're ready to go out and see the big show." — Gregg Steele of Gregg Steele Racing in Shelbyville, Indiana.
Added Bob Telford of Action Machine Shop in Sand Springs, Oklahoma: "It was excellent; I always enjoy it. The food was good, and the entertainment was A-plus. Anybody who likes racing but doesn't come to the Grand Opening Breakfast is missing out. It's a great way to start the PRI Show."
From the breakfast, attendees flowed onto a Show floor filled with every type of race part, equipment and service imaginable. Indeed, floor traffic was brisk, as retailers, engine builders, fabricators, professional race teams and more crowded the aisles for a glimpse at the industry's latest and most innovative offerings.
“The vendors have some great displays with all their prime products," said Barry Eller of 4 Boyz Racing in Oxford, North Carolina. "We build race cars from the ground up, so we’re eyeing engine parts as well as chassis builders parts. Springs, shocks, pretty much everything dirt racing.
"One advantage to be able to come to PRI is that our whole vendor base is pretty much under one roof here,” he added.
Showgoers also carved time out of their day to visit a special, limited-time exhibit celebrating Team Penske’s 50th Anniversary in motorsports. Located in the 6000 exhibit rooms, the display features an exclusive collection of Penske’s winning cars from the past five decades. Although the Borg-Warner Trophy was only on display during Day One of PRI, showgoers will still be able to see the PPG Cup Trophy, a 1994 Pushrod display engine and the 2015 Daytona 500 trophy.
Having entered the racing industry decades ago as Miss Hurst Golden Shifter, Linda Vaughn has released a 224-page biography titled “Linda Vaughn: The First Lady of Motorsports.” PRI Showgoers have a unique opportunity to have a copy personally signed by Vaughn during the Show. Signings take place in the 9000 exhibit rooms at various times Friday and Saturday. Check the mobile app or visit the PRI website for details.
At Machinery Row near the 5700 exhibits, the floor quickly filled with race engine builders and race team members searching for new equipment to add to their race shops. One popular display could be found at veteran exhibitor Rottler Manufacturing of Kent, Washington. Attendees gathered as they viewed a robot pick up a cylinder head and place it into a Rottler machine, which then runs the cylinder head. The robot then removed the cylinder head and replaced it with another one for machining. “It’s a fully automated cylinder head machine for cylinder head manufacturers,” explained Anthony Usher.
Among the variety of machinery Rottler brought to Indianapolis, Usher identified the company’s five-axis P69AHD machine as attracting a great deal of attention from attendees. In fact, two machines are on display as one is set up for doing block machining work and the other one is set up for manufacturing new cylinder heads from castings to complete cylinder heads.
First-time exhibitor Bernard Martin of Destiny Tool in Santa Clara, California, decided to display the company’s cutting tools at the PRI Trade Show because it provides “tremendous opportunities for what we do. This is really our core market. We make cutting tools for cutting aluminum, so most of the people who have parts here that are racing components, they are our customers.” In fact, Destiny Tool’s line of cutting tools, including its double variable helix tool, can be found in use on machinery that is on display at PRI’s Machinery Row.
Meantime, Sunnen continued a long-held PRI Show tradition with its Sunnen Engine Charity Sweepstakes, whereby attendees can enter to win a Chevy LSX 454 engine, custom built by Nick Ferri of Patterson Elite Performance. Tickets are on sale throughout the Show at Booth #852.
The sweepstakes had benefited other charities in the past before several years ago linking up with Victory Junction, a year-round camp for children with serious illnesses and chronic medical conditions. Last year, Sunnen raised over $59,000 through the raffle, and hopes to top $60,000 this year.
“The racing community really embraced it - that’s when our ticket sales really took off, when we started [working with] Victory Junction," said Sunnen's Bob Davis. "I think everybody can identify with kids."
Among news made throughout the day - a new prototype for the Pro Mazda Championship, Erica Enders-Stevens and Jeg Coughlin Jr. switching back to the Chevrolet Camaro platform for 2017, and Drag Illustrated unveiling its "30 Under 30" list, among others - the World Racing Group announced the launch of a new race day drug testing program.
Beginning with the 2017 season (effective January 1, 2017), World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series and Late Model Series will randomly test for drugs that impair the ability to drive. The policy applies to drivers only, and will occur at unannounced events throughout the season. Violators will be subject to suspension, officials announced, but will also be eligible for reinstatement after satisfying certain criteria.
Testing will be done through the National Center for Drug Free Sport, and applies to regular tour participants and weekly participants, they noted. According to WoO President Tom Deery, the three keys in developing the program are that testing had to be independent; it had to be random; and it would create a deterrent system.
"Every major sport across the country has adopted drug-testing policies," Deery said. "As the leader in dirt track racing we felt it was time to join that group."
The PRI Trade Show takes place December 8-10, 2016, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. For more information, visit www.pri2016.com.