Heading into its third year, the International Motorsports Industry Show in Indianapolis has already shown tremendous growth.
Now, it stands to get a big boost fom Indiana native Tony Stewart, the show’s co-owner, who was crowned NASCAR Sprint Cup champion after his victory in Homestead, Fla., on Sunday.
Stewart is scheduled to be at the event's grand opening Dec. 7 at Lucas Oil Stadium and also participate in a go-kart race Dec. 11 that wraps up the show at Conseco Fieldhouse. There, Stewart will square off against other NASCAR and IndyCar Series racers. In between those events, Stewart is likely to make at least one appearance on the convention floor, talking with exhibitors and attendees.
“Tony’s success in this year’s Sprint Cup is definitely going to give us a lift,” said Chris Paulsen, one of the show’s founders and president of locally based C&R Racing. “His presence is definitely a draw.”
IMIS officials are planning a new flurry of press releases and promotional material about Stewart, whose dad, Nelson, used to work for Paulsen at C&R, a company that makes parts for NASCAR, IndyCar and other race cars.
Stewart is extremely popular in his hometown of Columbus, and his third NASCAR championship is apt to boost that popularity.
With the late boost, promoters expect more than 550 exhibitors and 20,000 attendees at the event. The trade show draws companies that sell a wide variety of goods and services used by the racing industry. Attendees are involved in every form of racing, from go-karts and sprint cars to NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula One racing.
Attendance is expected to be up 25 percent this year, Paulsen said, and while the number of exhibitors is only slightly higher than a year ago, exhibits will take up 17 percent more floor space than in 2010.
In IMIS’ first year, 2009, the show consumed 119,000 square feet and drew just more than 10,000 attendees. This year, the show will use almost 283,000 square feet. Paulsen said there’s room to grow.
Many of Stewart’s sponsors have followed him to IMIS, a trade show that has grown from a regional to an international draw. For instance, Mobile One, one of Stewart’s primary NASCAR sponsors, is the largest exhibitor at IMIS this year.
“He has a lot of connections, and that’s helped,” Paulsen said.
Already, the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association estimates the show generates $15.9 million annually in visitor spending.
After an original two-year contract for 2009-2010, officials from IMIS and the ICVA signed an unprecedented agreement to keep the show in Indianapolis indefinitely.
“Certainly, having Tony Stewart’s strong tie to the show helps drive attendance and overall promotion of this international convention,” said ICVA spokesman Chris Gahl.
But Stewart is not mere window dressing for the show.
“Tony’s involvement is not just a promotional thing,” Paulsen said. “He’s tied to the event big-time. He’s actively involved. He’s truly a partner.”
Paulsen said Stewart called him “out of the blue” in 2009 about becoming a part-owner in the show.
“I’ve known Tony for years, going back to his USAC days,” Paulsen said. “He heard what we were doing, liked it, and wanted to be a part of it. We weren’t actively looking for a partner, but we thought his celebrity status certainly could help and the capital infusion didn’t hurt either. It’s been a great fit.”
Indianapolis previously hosted a similar motorsports trade show, Performance Racing Industry Show, operated by a California-based group. Now held in Orlando, it was here until it outgrew the Indiana Convention Center in 2004.