FYI WIRZ: Performance Racing Industry Show Draws Crowds, Stories and Floor Speed

Dwight Drum@@racetakeCorrespondent IIIDecember 14, 2010

Attractive display representative, Lee Anne Powell, strikes a pose on the floor of the PRI Trade Show at the Orlando Convention Center.
Attractive display representative, Lee Anne Powell, strikes a pose on the floor of the PRI Trade Show at the Orlando Convention Center.

Speed is always about numbers, but these numbers are impressive: 1,000 motorsports companies displaying countless products—engineering. engine parts, suspension components, data acquisition, safety gear, metal alloys, coatings, machining equipment, race electronics—in 3,000 booths on nearly 1,000,000 square feet at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

Speed is the theme during the first week of December, three days where more than 30,000 buying attendees converge for Performance Racing Industry Trade Show. 

To attend, all one needs to be is a bona fide racing company or employee. But those folks can join numerous seminars throughout the week requiring paid attendance to be privy to great advice from top motorsports professionals.   

Often just racing is a story within itself, but racers always have stories. Sharing fast tales, often called bench-racing, is constant lore in the motorsports world.  After all, travel, race preparation, qualifying, introductions and clean up take a lot more time than almost any race.     

At the opening PRI Trade Show breakfast, SPEED TV’s Dave Despain and Robin Miller entertained hundreds of attendees in the enormous hall as NASCAR driver Ken Schrader and open-wheel legend Bobby Rahal joined them on stage. All shared stories. Renowned NASCAR track promoter Howard “Humpy” Wheeler also addressed the room via telephone to share a small part of his past.   

After the breakfast when asked to define winners, three-time CART champion, Bobby Rahal, spoke like a true champion and he wasn’t even at a seminar.  

“I think the differentiation between champions and those that aren’t,” Rahal said. “The big difference is they have intelligence.  Some are more skilled than others.  Some work harder than others, but they have the intelligence to understand where they are during the race and where they need to be and when it’s the time.  Everything for them is maybe a little slower.  They see how the race unfolds when other people don’t.

“The other guys are seeing it right in front of them whereas the guys who are champions see it much further ahead. As a result they drive to that.  Being a champion is not about winning, but it is about being there.  I think you got to win, but you also have to be there.  Being smart enough to know how you have to drive during each race.  The guys who are champions know where they need to be when.”       

Good advice for racers to take home.

The depth and ingenuity of the products on display at the PRI show is too big to explain in this application, but one significant story might serve well.   

A tragedy avoided is always good news and that came at the Oakley display on the PRI floor.   
Paul “Torch” Le Page earned his name as an ace racing welder who enhanced his hand skills with vocal skills to become an industry representative. Currently Torch is a spokesperson for Oakley, eyewear, apparel and footwear firm, whose generosity in donating sunglasses for the protection of the sensitive eyes of trapped and rescued Chilean miners garnered international publicity.              

From the spacious and comfortable Oakley display structure at the PRI show AFA apparel associate, Troy McMullen, described the unexpected recognition surrounding the miners in Chile:  

“I can assure we had no idea that it was going to have that kind of appeal or impact,” McMullen said. “Several times a week someone will call up and say there is a problem here, such and such, we say—no problem—we understand and try to help out. Because of it being so common we didn’t expect it to turn into what it turned into. There wasn’t any forethought into it at all. It makes sense they can use some glasses, so we’ll send them some glasses. Next thing we know it’s on Chinese television.

“It’s been a conversation piece ever since it happened. People still bring it up.  That day I stepped out of the building totally not expecting anything and here’s all these TV trucks with microwaves and communication stuff.  What is going on out here?

“Our PR rep grabbed me and said, ‘Sorry about this, sprung it on you, but just tell them what you know because that’s what we know.’

“There was a medical need and people thought we were telling them to keep the glasses on. After those glasses went in the mail we didn’t have any contact with them. The surprising thing was we saw TV interviews days afterwards and they’re still wearing sunglasses four days later.” 

Standing in the comfort of his Chip Foose designed Oakley footwear, Torch commented on what he liked about the PRI show:

“All the smiles on people’s faces,” Le Page said. “They’re happy they are at an event where there’s not a car where they have to stick their head under the hood or change a tire or try to qualify.  Everyone comes to the show to see the latest and greatest. Get their race face on for what happens at the start of the new year.”

Next year’s PRI Trade Show will arrive more new products and fresh racing stories in the first week in December 1-3, 2011 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.   

Until then, it’s a race to keep the speed.

Photo credit: Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com