In minor league baseball, getting called up to play in the Majors is known as “going to the show.” At least if what we learned from watching the movie “Bull Durham” is true.
In the performance and racing industries, going to the show means something else altogether. The Performance Racing Industry show, or PRI for short, takes places the second weekend of December in Indianapolis, and it’s the center of all things motorsports in the United States. If the accents and languages I heard are any indication, it also brings people in from around the world.
I have been to the show a couple of times, but I had not been able to attend PRI for the last 10 years because it would have meant missing my daughter’s ballet performances in “The Nutcracker,” something I’d never hear the end of if I had missed them. Well, that and I’m usually gone the week before to cover the 25 Hours of Thunderhill for Speed News. Between those two obligations, I was never able to get to Indianapolis for the show.
This was the first time I’ve been in a decade — and what a difference 10 years makes. The last show I went to filled up one hall in the convention center and some of the other hall, and a bit of the Lucas Oil Stadium, where the biggest items were on display. This year, the show took up both halls and the whole stadium.
I was able to walk the entire show, and I must say I was impressed. Like most of us, I have been to a lot of trade shows — in fact, I met my wife at a trade show in Chicago — but PRI is different, at least to me. Like going to the major leagues, it is a privilege to be part of it. Cars and racing and engines and performance parts have been a lifelong passion, and to be involved in the racing industry is, honestly, a dream come true.
One of the more remarkable things I noticed at this year’s PRI, in addition to its growth, was the broad array of products and services. Twenty years ago, you could count the number of manufacturers that made turbos on one hand. Now you need two, and I’m astonished at how deeply turbocharging has penetrated the racing market, even drag racing.
I used to be in the parts business in the 90s, and this year’s PRI demonstrated to me the forward march of progress and the adoption of technology in all facets of the market, whether it’s electric racecars, sim sports, tractor pulling or dirt track racing, or our beloved sport of road-course racing.
Clever ideas were on display everywhere and the people I was lucky enough to speak with were full of new concepts for sponsorships, and the racing business. There are new road courses opening this year in the United States — Flat Rock Motorsports Park and Hedge Hollow to name two. In fact, NASA MidAmerica will be racing at Hedge Hollow in May 2024.
In terms of innovation, it’s clear the racing and performance industry is healthy and vibrant, and growing. Technology continues to advance, and racing is a wonderful industry to be part of. One thing the PRI show also made me think about, given all the gray hair, glasses and hearing aids on a significant measure of show patrons, is that we need to find ways to get more youth involved in the performance and racing industry.
I’m sure that’s a common theme at nearly every legacy trade show, but I think racing has an advantage over some others like, say, golf or fishing and hunting, in that our sport is a lot more fun. It is more expensive, but worth every dime.
I’m reminded of a quote in “Bull Durham,” which was attributed to Walt Whitman: “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game. The American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.” I think the same can be said about racing. Unlike baseball, racing in all its forms is “the show,’ regardless of whether you’re in the minor leagues or the majors.