“I love this show” says Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian, Donald Davidson. “Everyone that you see, aisle after aisle, booth after booth. Everyone that you see is employed in motorsports. You wouldn’t believe how big it is.” Draped in respect from his peers, the humble racing expert cannot walk more than a couple paces without someone recognizing him. They grab his arms, his jacket, a celebrity based on knowledge. Davidson is one of thousands of racing enthusiasts that flock to the downtown convention center in Indianapolis for the Performance Racing Industry, or PRI show. Though Davidson doesn’t merely attend the show, he is an esteemed guest. He was invited to speak about the four A.J. Foyt Indy 500 winning cars on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum booth adjacent to the main thoroughfare. Groups of onlookers gather as the interviewer sets up a professional camera and lights. They listen, eager to hear a tidbit from the Grand Master himself.
Happenings like this occur all over the 3,400-booth showroom floor. Sister event to the SEMA show, the PRI show celebrated its 30th birthday this year. Unlike SEMA, PRI is focused specifically on auto racing. For one weekend in December, this is the center of the racing world.
No one gets into the racing industry by accident. Walking through the aisles, anyone can see that this is a passion-based profession. Booth topics go from shock absorbers to exhaust systems, brake pads, chassis, racing sanctioning bodies and publications. Seminars go on in the morning, hosted by trendsetters and industry leaders. Some are as technical as “Battery, Cranking & Charging System Myths Explained!” While others focus on the human element like “Derek Daly Academy Driver Development Seminar.”
Professionals, team owners, drivers, and engineers are invited. This is not an event open to the public until the last day. In more recent years, both PRI and SEMA have put a larger emphasis on educational development. By investing in college-age students, they are keeping the industry alive and evolving. My personal favorite example of such student/corporate partnership was a virtual reality prototype introduced to me by a student that I happened to meet in the Online Resources booth.
He introduced himself as Taylor, the lead Project Manager for the IU School of Informatics and Computing on the Augmented Reality application presented in front of us. A college student with one of the coolest homework projects I have ever heard of, he pointed to the 1958 Monza 500 winning Indy Roadster and explained. “Me and a team of students worked on this all semester. We made a digital 3D model of the engine.” Holding up an iPad to the Race of Two Worlds Champion, a digital model of the car’s engine appeared on the screen. As you moved left and right, the digital rendering followed, changing perspective. “You can use this technology to create a living dictionary of engines,” he said. With more time and resources, applications like this can be used to peel away components to virtually look into the inner workings of just about anything. Motorsports is just one application of such a program. Students like Taylor are doing research like this all over the world to further development in everything from engineering to biology. This is just the beginning.
As big as the PRI show is, it comes nowhere close to the notoriety that SEMA earns, and I think it should. Though it is not as physically big as SEMA, the PRI show should be a MUST ATTEND for anyone that aspires to work in racing. Simply being there can be educational in every definition of the word. You never know who you are going to meet, what you are going to learn or what connections you can make. The PRI show displays the cutting edge of what is happening now in the racing industry. Mark your calendars for next year. The PRI show returns December 6-8 2018.