Growth Of PRI Trade Show Has Surprised Everyone


Stories Of People Who Make A Living In Motorsports

Guest Columnist

Steve Lewis publishes Performance Racing Industry magazine and owns the famed No. 9 midgets that compete in the USAC Midget Series.

Twenty years ago, I had a variety of thoughts swarming through my mind as I was packing my bags for the flight to Louisville where the inaugural Performance Racing Industry Trade Show was going to debut at the Commonwealth Convention Center.

I felt a little bit like a driver waiting to go out to qualify; a bit nervous but confident that a fast lap would be coming. I have been asked many times how the idea came about to publish Performance Racing Industry magazine and produce the Trade Show.

For two years in the mid 1980s, we produced the Indy Motorsports Expo, which was a consumer show held at the Indiana Convention Center in May during the Indy 500 Festival Week. It was a beautiful show with lots of exhibits, unique crowd pleasers such as our stage featuring Indy Racing Greats, quarter scale model car racing and other attractions.

We had only one slight problem — very few consumers came through the turnstiles. We had a number of exhibitors in the category of manufacturing hardcore racing products who presented an interesting, new and unique idea. Like the famous Chicago area retailer Marshall Field said, “Give the lady what she wants,” and that is what these hardcore racing product exhibitors suggested to us. “Give us racing manufacturers a real ‘trade show’ late in the fall, somewhere east of the Mississippi.”

At this time, our company was already producing trade shows for the surfing lifestyle and outdoor backpacking and camping markets, so blending in a new entity was not a big issue. It also helped the decision-making process to move forward with this new venture because of my familiarization with racing and my involvement in midget racing. At the time, my beloved friend Stan Fox was driving our Beast-Gaerte midget and that enabled me to have direct knowledge and contact with a core group of racing business leaders.

The response to the idea of publishing a racing trade magazine and producing a racing trade show caught on quickly. Louisville was an ideal location for the first PRI Trade Show, which opened Dec. 4, 1988. More than 250 companies displayed their wares in 275 booths.

Rick Hendrick was our first Grand Opening Breakfast Speaker and he “wowed” the crowd with his story- telling abilities. We were on our way.

Our then Associate Publisher Diane Birne wrote this prophetic statement in her welcome piece in the Show Issue: “This PRI Trade Show is the result of careful listening on our part to the members of the racing industry.”

She was right. We did listen and delivered to the market just what they wanted. You could say this first show was a small show, but it was the beginning of something that grew beyond any of our expectations. From Louisville, the PRI Trade Show enjoyed great success in Cincinnati, Nashville, Cincinnati (again), Columbus, Indianapolis — and now — Orlando.

One interesting bit of information is we always had to move from one city to the next because the PRI Trade Show always OUTGREW the convention center’s ability to house the event. So now, 20 years later, here we are with the 20th Annual Performance Racing Industry Trade Show at the 1,000,000-square-foot Orange County Convention Center.

This growth is very much reflected by the dramatic growth of the racing industry itself.

Basically, a trade show reflects a mirror image of the industry it represents. When attendees from across our nation and around the world pass through the doors of the Orange County Convention Center and take the escalators down to the exhibit floor, they will be captivated by the sheer size and scope of this year’s PRI Trade Show.

On the exhibit floor, the attendees will have the opportunity to visit and do business with 1,435-plus exhibitors that will proudly display the finest hardcore racing products in 4,236 booths.

As a trade show production team and an industry we have come a long way since our initial event at the Louisville Commonwealth Convention Center.

It has been a wonderful, exciting and rewarding journey. The fantastic growth and success of this event is a direct result of the overwhelming support from the beginning of the exhibitors (manufacturers) and the racing businesses servicing the racing consumer.

Together, these entities have made the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show what it is today — The World’s Largest Supermarket.

(Original Print Date: December 5, 2007)