THE COMPLETE PRI NOTEBOOK - AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE INDY SHOW
PRI TRADE SHOW WRAPS UP BANNER ‘15 EDITION - The "Three Biggest Business Days In Racing" lived up to the billing as the PRI Trade Show sprinted to the finish line with yet another event filled with crowded display booths and brisk parts sales.
The 2015 edition of the world's premier event for motorsports professionals saw tens of thousands of attendees from across the United States and more than 70 countries flock to the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis for three days of intense shopping for the latest offerings from more than 1200 manufacturers of racing and high-performance automotive components, as well as precision machining equipment.
“We’ve grown each of the three years since returning to Indianapolis, and it’s safe to say that 2015 has been one of the most successful PRI Trade Shows ever,” said John Kilroy, PRI Show producer. “We’ve received positive feedback and glowing numbers beginning with the start of Race Industry Week on Monday, through the PRI Grand Opening Breakfast, and then all the way until the Show’s closing. A large amount of business was done this week, and that bodes well for the industry in 2016.”
A strong Race Industry Week schedule featured more than three-dozen events, including the Advanced Engineering Technology Conference (AETC), the Race Track Business Conference, the International Council of Motorsport Sciences (ICMS) Annual Congress, and the Advanced Vehicle Dynamics and Data Acquisition Seminar. NASCAR's 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski headlined the Grand Opening Breakfast’s popular morning talk show with host Dave Despain of MAVTV.
INTERNATIONAL APPEAL - A key component of the Show’s success has been an increase in its international profile, with 70 nations represented and approximately 3000 overseas attendees and exhibitors at the three-day event.
Overall, more than 1200 motorsports industry suppliers in 3200 booths exhibit the latest in auto racing technology and services during the 2015 PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis. Buyers from throughout the US and 70 countries come to the Racing Capital of the World for the premier trade show for motorsports professionals.
FORD FOCUSED ON CONTINUED FACTORY DOMINATION - Four races, four wins.
It is safe to say 2015 was a banner year for Ford in the NHRA Factory Showdown. Featuring classes exclusively for modern-day factory Stock eliminator race cars from Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet, the NHRA Factory Showdown was a clean sweep by Ford, with three of the four races going to Pro Stock up-and-comer Bo Butner in his bright orange Cobra Jet Mustang.
In 2016, Ford is determined to keep that momentum going strong, as the keepers of the blue oval proudly had on display their new Cobra Jet Mustang at PRI.
“We have our 2016 Cobra Jet on display for NHRA Stock and Super Stock. We really like to run in the Factory Showdown races and we have been very fortunate that the 2015 calendar year we swept all four Factory Showdown races and we are looking forward to getting 2016 on-track for next year and continue our success,” said Ford’s Jesse Kershaw. “Our 2016 Cobra Jet will have four different engines. Racers can choose between two blown engines, a naturally aspirated five-liter and also the 429 combo that Bo Butner ran. We are also selling the Cobra Jet crate engine as a stand-alone for anyone that wants to build their Cobra Jet clone.
“In addition to our NHRA stuff, we are going to continue the Cobra Jet showdown with NMRA and NMCA and we are hoping to do really well there too.”
BIG CHANGES EQUAL BIG CHALLENGES FOR TWO-TIME CHAMP - Easily the talk of the town at PRI in drag racing circles was the numerous changes coming to the Pro Stock class.
After years of dwindling participation numbers and a class that has been viewed by many as having become stale, NHRA injected new life into the class with an announcement in July that Pro Stock teams would be switching to electronic fuel injection, losing the iconic hood scoops and undergoing a litany of changes for 2016.
While the new changes will be a struggle for all teams to adapt, for two-time defending Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock champion Erica Enders, the changes could equal an end to one of the most dominating runs the sport has ever seen.
But the changes to the Pro Stock class are only the beginning. Enders will also be switching manufacturers, moving from Chevy power to a Mopar-powered Dodge Dart in 2016. That is a quite a lot of change in just a short amount of time for a team that has seemingly found its groove.
“We are definitely looking forward to next year. I have enjoyed two incredible years with Elite. Richard Freeman has organized one of the best groups in the history of the sport in my opinion and I know that the sky is the limit with our group, but yes, there is a significant amount of changes coming to our class in the next year,” Enders said. “Fuel injection, 10,500 rpm limiter, a shorter wheelie bar and on top of that we decided to switch to Mopar. Right now we are balls to the wall with planning and trying to get things done.
“We have certainly found a sweet spot with the carburetors and the way we were running the cars the last couple of years, but to be honest, you can have horsepower, you can have money, but it is all about having the right people and that is something that we have.
“I know the changes are significant and they are going to be challenging, but we are up for the fight and if anyone can do it, we can.”
BIG EXCITEMENT FOR DART - Sometimes, you just can’t hide the excitement for a new product.
That was especially clear in the Dart booth as engineers highlighted some of the big things happening in 2016.
“We have a bunch of new things coming up this year. The crankshafts and short block stuff that is getting bigger and bigger every week and the upgraded Pro 1 big block stuff has all been good for us this year. But the LS3 outfit, that’s the biggest ones for us. What that is going to do for the racer is tremendous. I’m looking forward to seeing a pair run.”
A SPECIAL MOMENT FOR MILLICAN - Of all of the new product launches announced at the PRI show, one in particular held a special place in the heart of veteran racer Clay Millican.
Millican, who lost his son Dalton in a motorcycle accident earlier this year, was touched when Weld Racing announced that its new line of HiPer Wheels would be named the Dalton Millican Series Wheels in honor of his son.
“I had no idea they were going to name a line of wheels after Dalton and I think that is just the neatest thing. Dalton actually won a championship in motorcross and he ran HiPer wheels and that was before Weld owned HiPer. Now, for them to name that line of wheels after him, is just incredible,” Millican said. “It’s pretty cool that he will just keep right on winning championships for years to come.”
ONE SWEET LOOKING RIDE (SORT OF) - Typically, when someone describes your ride as the best looking rust-bucket they have ever seen, it is not much of a compliment.
But Chris Davis, owner of Kryptonite Kustomz, couldn’t be happier hearing his latest design labeled as a beautiful barn find.
The skilled team at Kryptonite Kustomz unveiled their latest work at the PRI show with Craig Sullivan’s supercharged Richard Petty-themed Daytona Pro Mod, all done up to look like something straight out of someone’s pasture. The team put in quite a bit of work to create the wrap, and the car was somewhat-of a celebrity on the show floor with thousands of gawking attendees taking a chance to see the one-of-a-kind ride.
“There are only a handful of those cars out there and the owner of the car contacted me and said he wanted to make it a Petty-themed car that is basically totally trashed. I wouldn’t call it a barn find, I would call it a pasture find,” Davis said. “I put together a story in my head before I could even think about the layout on it, picturing this thing out in the weeds and someone stumbled across it, tying a chain around it and deciding to run it on a dragstrip. That is the theme behind making it look this distressed.
“We do anything from full covers on commercial vehicles to racing graphics, but racing vehicles is really our passion. We can walk on the wild side or we can do a conservative, beautiful car, but we put a lot of love into everything we do.”
RACER SIGHTINGS - JOHN FORCE - “I’ve had so many people say ‘hey, enjoy the vacation’ since Pomona. Robert (Hight) and I haven’t even sniffed a vacation. My daughter got married and we went to her wedding on the coast of Santa Barbara. We have a new group putting together my Top Fuel team, everyone knows that it’s Alann Johnson. And now all of the shows and the work we are doing for Chevrolet, Lucas Oil, Peak and now Weld. I’m loving it here at PRI. I’ve got a new plan for John Force Racing in 2016 and it’s starting right now,” said John Force, driver of the Peak Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car.
BIG NEWS IN PRO MOD POWER - Those looking for a little help wrangling all that power in the Pro Mod ranks, look no further.
Liberty’s Gears made a big announcement at the PRI show, debuting a new purpose-built 3-speed and 2-speed transmission for Pro Mod.
“We designed this transmission to handle over 4,000 horsepower, so it is basically to go after Pro Mod right now,” said Craig Liberty. “It is made to bolt direct. There are no adaptors, it’s got a female input. It is very short and a very small unit. We tried to make it as light as possible, but to handle 4,000 horsepower it did get a little heavier than we wanted.”
Liberty said the highlight of the new transmissions is its versatility.
“Just like all of the Liberty products, it has an unbelievable ratio availability. The versatility, the tuneability of it, everything about it, we feel it is going to simply be the quickest, fastest transmission out there in Pro Mod, Drag Radial, 10.5, all of those classes,” Liberty said.
Racer Rick Thornton was given the first prototype a year ago and ran a full season with the new setup. After a year on the strip, Liberty felt now was the best time to release to the world.
“The first few that we have put out there and the response that we got on them, how much faster it is, how much easier it is to use, we are proud to be a part of something like that,” Liberty said.
HEAD SAFETY ALL THE RAGE - It doesn’t really matter what sport you are a part of, head safety is the talk of the town.
From football to hockey to motorsports, head safety is perhaps the number one safety discussion in the world of sport and it is something many of the sport’s safety innovators are keeping a close eye on.
“We are constantly innovating and the Snell standard helps keep the manufacturers where they are consistently building a safer product for the racer,” said Shane Creswell, Helmet Engineer Manager at Simpson Performance Products. “We do a lot of sled testing with our combinations of hans and hybrids and helmets. We study the rotational concussions and we are always looking for the next best product, the next best material to use. It’s not just the standard composite shell and the EPS liner anymore, it is way more evolved.”
Safety experts at companies like Bell Helmets are hard at work keeping racers safe, but some of those safety precautions fall on the racers themselves. A lot of times, racer safety is as simple as taking the proper steps and always making sure to not re-use equipment that has been in an accident. Bell experts remind racers to always send wrecked helmets back to the company to be studied and to prevent further damage.
“We want to look at the helmet to make sure it is safe. We don’t want you to take a second hit to the same helmet, that is probably where we see the most problems. The liners are made to give to a certain point and then after that they need to be replaced.”
NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO SEE - One of the joys of the PRI show is that you never quite know what you are going to see. From unique racecars to state-of-the-art new products, there is something for racers and race fans of all ages. And we literally mean all ages. In the TMS Titanium booth, we came across this full-sized replica of Matt Hagan’s NHRA Funny Car with a full audio/video setup inside giving fans an inside look at a pass down the track in a real-life Funny Car.
WELD BRINGS THE WOW - One of the biggest moments of the 2015 PRI show was Weld Racing’s multi-pronged press conference in the Media Center announcing its largest product launch in two decades and continued partnership with John Force Racing. The announcement continues one of JFR’s longest running and most successful partnerships.
“John Force Racing has been at the heart of Weld for over 20 years. We are thrilled to extend one of the most successful partnerships in motorsports and continue winning championships with John Force Racing,” said Norman Young, Weld president.
LOCO FOR COPO - One of the sweetest looking rides at PRI 2015 was the bright red and black special edition Courtney Force COPO Camaro on display in the Chevy Performance booth.
Decked out with all of the latest offerings from Chevy, Chevrolet Performance Parts Marketing Manager Curt Collins explained just why this car means more than just what it can do on the strip.
“With the 2016 COPO Camaro we partnered with Courtney Force. It is lighter, a little shorter and a little bit narrower than the Gen Five Camaro. Courtney was a great partner on this car. We used her input on the exterior, on the colors, the graphics, the interior, you name it,” Collins said. “What is really exciting, at the Barrett Jackson Scottsdale event, Courtney will be there to help us auction this car with proceeds going to the United Way.”
In addition to the Force ride, Collins also pointed out what racers have to look forward to in 2016 from the bowtie brigade.
“We are getting back to our grassroots. It’s really all about our COPO Camaro program that we reintroduced to the market in 2012. We have gone four model years with 69 cars per year and now we are getting ready to introduce this 2016 COPO Camaro and again we will put 69 of these cars on the track for people to be able to purchase,” Collins said. “If PRI this year is any indication of the year ahead, it is going to be a great year.”
BATTLE OF THE BOWTIES - Lingenfelter Performance Engineering and the School of Automotive Machinists announced at PRI that they have teamed up to present the ultimate COPO Camaro drag race titled “Battle at the Green,” with a $10,000 prize, during the 2016 Holley LS Fest at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Ky., September 9-11, 2016.
The Holley LS Fest has become the largest gathering of LS engine-powered vehicles in the country. In 2015, 671 competitors attended, with the COPO Camaro class being the most popular with spectators. The “Battle at the Green” will be contested under Stock and Super Stock rules, with a qualified pro ladder.
“With Chevrolet’s continuation of the COPO Camaro program in 2016, we expect this new generation of race car to increase participation as well as spectator interest in the future,” said Mike Copeland, vice president and general manager at Lingenfelter Performance Engineering. “While Lingenfelter has sponsored the COPO class from the beginning, during the 2015 event Judson Massingill of the School of Automotive Machinists and I developed the idea of offering competitors this added incentive. We’re hoping to turn this into the ultimate COPO Camaro shootout for the year.”
PRITCHETT POWER RETURNS TO THE TRACK - Well that certainly didn’t take long.
After being out of a ride only a few weeks, Leah Pritchett was officially welcomed as the newest driver at Bob Vandergriff Racing in 2016 as the team fields a two-car operation along with Dave Connolly. Pritchett’s dragster will be backed by Quaker State.
“The opportunity to run a complete NHRA Top Fuel season has been a goal that I have worked towards for a very long time,” said Pritchett. “I am beyond excited for the opportunity to focus on making the Countdown next season, competing for a championship, working alongside Bob Vandergriff Jr. and re-introducing the Quaker State brand back into the NHRA.”
RACER SIGHTINGS - MORGAN LUCAS - “At this point, I am excited about the progress Aaron Brooks and Richie Crampton have made with their teams. Looking forward, we are going to try and change how we are going to approach my car. We are going to freshen up the parts and the trailer and make a little more aggressive run at the few races we do, but I am just excited to get back in the car. I think with Richie this year, in a lot of other seasons we probably would have had a good chance at winning the championship, but Antron was just outstanding. We are excited to see what can happen and we are just going to keep picking away at it,” said Morgan Lucas, driver of the Geico/Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster and winner of the 2015 Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals.
FROM THE BEGINNING - Ask longtime Top Fuel driver and owner of Bruce Litton Trailer Sales, Bruce Litton, about any PRI show in the past 25 years, and he can probably give you a history lesson.
As one of the longest participants in the annual motorsports trade show, Litton is proud to showcase his latest trailers and talk a little racing when the show rolls around each year. Especially since it returned to Indy - a comfy 12 miles from his home.
“I was the original trailer dealer to ever display at PRI when it started out in Louisville in 1989. I was the first and I had a trailer inside and I have been following them around for all of these years. I guess you could say I am the elder statesman,” Litton said. “In my 30 years in the business, you see a lot of changes that come through the trailer industry and I learn by what we put in our trailers. Today, we have a lot more companies at the show, but I still look forward to PRI every year.”
HAVE A HOLLEY, JOLLY CHRISTMAS - In July, the NHRA announced that Pro Stock teams would be undergoing a lot of changes, namely a move to electronic fuel injection in their engines. In August, Holley EFI was selected as the official supplier of the products controlling both fuel injection and ignition in these incredible machines.
That, understandably, leaves a lot of work for Holley after the holiday season.
“Everybody is having to pull carburetors off of cars and reconfigure them for fuel injection, so there is obviously some deer in the headlights and some are ready to rock. Really, it is a double-edged sword. We have a lot of teams with wide variances of experience and knowledge of fuel injection,” said Robin Lawrence, Holley’s EFI Technical Sales and Motorsports Manager. “We are excited about Pro Stock and we want to see it survive. We want to see a lot of people come back and run competitively and we are excited because it reinforces what we have been saying about our fuel injection systems.”
PEEP SHOW IN THE VALVOLINE BOOTH - In the popular Christmas movie Elf, starring Will Ferrell, Santa tells his bright-eyed human elf that, when he is traveling in the human world and sees the words “peep show,” it doesn’t mean that you get to look at presents before Christmas.
Well, in the Valvoline booth, adult kids did get a bit of a peep show themselves by getting an early glance at the new Pro Stock engines debuting in 2016. In fact, there were plenty of engines of all racing disciplines scattered throughout the popular booth.
“We decided to be a little different this year. Rather than pulling in a car, we decided we would put horsepower in the booth - and it has been a magnet. We have experienced a lot more people this year as compared to last year and we’ve been able to talk to a lot of guys and gals about the products, specifically the Pro-V Racing products. We introduced Pro-V last year and people are starting to hear about it. We have several great relationships with teams like Clay Millican and Gray Motorsports and we wanted to put that on display here this weekend.”
THE POWER OF PEOPLE - Got a diesel powered-ride? Automotive Racing Products can help.
And that’s not all.
One of the joys of PRI is that, no matter what you drive, companies can help find the right parts and pieces for your unique ride.
“Our diesel line is very popular and every year we have a lot more diesel applications. PRI is great for the builder. You get a lot more people and they can see everything you have to offer and what you can do for them,” said ARP’s Art Venegas. “This is a great place to showcase. Everyone here knows our product and its quality and it is cool to hear people walk by and thank us for what we do.”
SONNY’S MAKING WAVES - If you want to go fast, Sonny’s Racing Engines is the place to go.
Sonny’s owns numerous records, race wins and championships in the world of big motor racing, especially in the confines of PDRA and Mountain Motor Pro Stock racing. But this year, Sonny’s owner Sonny Leonard decided he wanted to get his feet wet with a new venture - literally.
“We are getting into the marine industry for engine building. We want to design for off-shore and pleasure boat engines that someone wants to go extremely fast,” Leonard said.
In addition to drag racing, Sonny is also big in the truck pull industry, with over 20 customers being powered down the track with Sonny’s power. But even with clientele in multiple industries, drag racing is where his heart truly lies.
“It is hard to believe in some of these doorslammer classes it is just as tight as NHRA Pro Stock. So many different engines, different cylinder heads, different cars, it is just hard to believe it is so close. This sport it is all about who is going to work the hardest and I like that. I like the challenge.”
LITTLE CHANGES MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE - Not everyone has the ability to unveil a new racecar or powerful new engine in their booth to showcase their latest line of products.
For some, the changes, however small or subtle to the general public, make all of the difference on the track. Companies like Mahle, with its rows and rows of tiny parts, all add up to one big boost in performance when digging through the details.
“Our new rings have been proven to be 8-10 horsepower stronger than the typical 1515 3mm ring pack. We are also moving to a steel top ring and a steel napier middle ring across the board, virtually all of our smaller, lower drag racing rings now are steel. Even our lower budget sets have incorporated a plasma steel top ring in them where nobody else offers that kind of product.”
It is easy to see, small changes make all of the difference.
SMALL NHRA PRO STOCK TEAMS STRUGGLING WITH NEW RULES - While all of the talk regarding the new Pro Stock rule changes have hinged on the big-money teams, few have looked at what the changes mean for the part-timers.
Roaming around the PRI floor, Pro Stock racer Matt Hartford took a few moments to explain that the new rules are not exactly making it easy for everyone.
“The new rule changes that NHRA brought in definitely makes it tough for a small guy like me to even think about having a car ready for Pomona. Unless something changes, I don’t think you will see a lot of the part-time racers out the first of the year,” Hartford said. “Right now we are just sitting back and seeing how everything works out.”
SEE YOU NEXT YEAR - Miss anything? Preparations are already underway for the 2016 PRI Trade Show at the Indiana Convention Center, December 8-10.