PRI show a healthy sign

The Performance Racing Industry Show in Indianapolis last week was one-stop shopping for racing needs at nearly every level. Courtesy Performance Racing Industry

INDIANAPOLIS -- The business side of motorsports took center stage at the 27th annual Performance Racing Industry Show at the Indiana Convention Center.

While the sport's marketers attempt to find solutions to slowly declining racetrack attendance and flat television ratings, the technical side of the sport is flourishing, from the grassroots level all the way up through the professional ranks.

The first PRI Show, held in 1988 in Louisville, Kentucky, attracted 169 vendors. This year, more than 1,100 exhibitors erected a record 3,200 booths to display their wares for a crowd of approximately 40,000 potential buyers.

PRI was formed when the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas began to emphasize street car customization over racing. Established as a show run by racers for racers, PRI bounced around the Midwest before finally settling in Indianapolis in the 1990s.

The show got so big it outgrew the Indiana Convention Center, forcing a move to a larger facility in Orlando, Florida. Competition for major trade shows like PRI was a key factor that led to a major expansion of the convention center in Indianapolis at the same time Lucas Oil Stadium was built as the new home of the Indianapolis Colts NFL club.

In the meantime, NASCAR star Tony Stewart got involved in bringing a trade show back to Indianapolis, billed as the International Motorsport Industry Show (IMIS). Then in 2012, SEMA acquired the rights to both racing shows -- PRI and IMIS -- and in 2013, it consolidated them under the PRI Show banner at the expanded Indiana Convention Center.

In addition to acres of on-site parts demonstration and sales, PRI hosted more than 35 industry conferences, seminars and social opportunities over the course of a full week.

"If you're in the business of auto racing, this is your trade show," remarked show producer John Kilroy. "The new racing products on display serve as the star attraction, but the spectrum of events make race industry week hugely productive for motorsports professionals.

"The quality of people all in one place all at one time provides extraordinary networking opportunities," he added. "Add that to the educational sessions, and this is a week of extraordinary value for any motorsports professional."

Although show attendees missed the pleasant December weather that Orlando is famous for, the convenience of having PRI back home again in Indiana, where many suppliers and racing teams competing in USAC, NHRA and INDYCAR are based, helped boost attendance to record levels.

INDYCAR and its partners used the PRI platform to make several announcements, including Mazda's badging of engines in the revamped Indy Lights Series and the three-driver Chip Ganassi Racing lineup.

But PRI's reach expands far beyond local, as participants were registered from all 50 states and more than 70 countries.

There were more than 100 exhibitors new to PRI in 2014.

"We have exhibitors here from every corner of the world -- Australia, Argentina, Sweden, Japan, Estonia and more," said Francisque Savinien, PRI's director of global sales and marketing. "Buyers are here from all over the globe, and we are hosting a large group from FIA Europe."

Attendees always had the possibility of running into someone famous roaming the show's many carpeted aisles, including legendary drag racers Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and Tom "Mongoose" McEwen, who were the featured stars at the opening breakfast.

Other notables on site for work or pleasure included NASCAR champions Tony Stewart and Rusty Wallace, IndyCar Series competitors Scott Dixon and Ed Carpenter, and drag racing stars John Force and Cruz Pedregon.

"We're out here visiting some of the manufacturers we do business with who make a lot of the parts and pieces for our engines, and even the chassis builders," remarked Pedregon. "It's such a big show, so I usually come out and do four hours on Thursday and then come out and do four hours on Friday.

"If I had more time I'd bring a shopping cart out for my hot rod and go up and down every aisle."