Fledgling motorsports show growing faster than expected

December 12, 2009

The fledgling International Motorsports Industry Show held in Indianapolis Dec. 3-4 is picking up speed much faster than event organizers and local convention and tourism officials expected.

But just as IMIS is gaining serious traction with hard-core motorsports companies, it could face a serious roadblock. The nation’s biggest motorsports trade show, Performance Racing Industry Show, run by a group out of California, is considering competing with the local show head-on in 2010.

IMIS, which was started this year by an Indiana group that includes NASCAR driver and Columbus resident Tony Stewart, announced earlier this month its 2010 show will be held Dec. 1-3.

Sources close to PRI said organizers of that event, which was held here until it outgrew the convention center in 2004, may overlap the dates of the local show in an attempt to squash it before it grows too large. PRI officials won’t divulge their 2010 dates until Dec. 12, the last day of their 2009 show in Orlando.

One of the local show’s drawing cards is location.

“Logistically, having the show in the southeast corner of the country is inconvenient and a lot more expensive to our company than having it more centrally located,” said Blake Robertson, president of California-based VMac Racing Products. “Indianapolis is the heart of the racing industry. That’s where the show needs to be.”

IMIS officials have plans to aggressively grow the event. IMIS co-founder Chris Paulsen said demand from exhibitors and attendees is mandating a fast-track growth plan.

“We don’t want to overlap PRI. We want to play the game the right way. We want to let the people decide on their own, give them a choice of which show to attend,” he said. “But in the end, we can only control what we do.”

IMIS, held at the Indiana Convention Center, will grow from 113,000 square feet of exhibit space in 2009 to 245,000 square feet in 2010, said Paulsen, who also owns C&R Racing Inc., an Indianapolis-based machine shop and fabricator. The event will expand from two to three days and the number of exhibitors will grow from 346 in 2009 to 450 next year.

IMIS drew 10,348 paying attendees, more than 2,000 more than expected. Paulsen projects 18,000 will attend next year. The Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association estimates direct visitor spending from the event was close to $6 million. Paulsen thinks that number will reach $30 million to $40 million by 2012.

Already, Paulsen said, about half the exhibitor space for next year is booked.

“What [IMIS organizers] have done as a startup in a weak economy while facing the 800-pound gorilla in this category is nothing short of amazing,” said ICVA CEO Don Welsh. “We expected 2,500 hotel room-nights to be sold, and had 4,000 this year.”

To accommodate the growth, IMIS has a full-time staff of eight, and Paulsen expects that to grow to 40 within three years.

The IMIS, even with its projections, pales in size to PRI, which had a seven-year run in Indianapolis through 2004. The PRI show now takes up 1 million square feet of convention space in Orlando, attracting 1,400 exhibitors and 40,000 attendees.

Some think the PRI show has become too big, diluted by too many companies operating on the periphery of motorsports, and causing the show to lose its focus.

“We want to differentiate ourselves by focusing on hard-core race companies,” Paulsen said. “We turned away 75 companies that wanted to be exhibitors at our trade show this year, but simply weren’t motorsports-related companies.”

That focus, Paulsen added, assures the show will never outgrow Indianapolis, which will have 750,000 square feet of exhibit space between Lucas Oil Stadium and the convention center, when its expansion is complete.

The show’s four co-owners—Paulsen, Stewart, Stoops Freightliner CEO Jeff Stoops and Indiana Motorsports Association Executive Director Tom Weisenbach—this month signed a deal with city officials to keep the show in Indianapolis through 2015.

“This industry is only so big,” Paulsen said. “We’re interested in serving the hard-core racing community, not in setting attendance records every year. If we keep our focus, the expanded convention center and Lucas Oil Stadium will always meet our needs.”

While Paulsen said exhibitors and attendees at the local show demonstrated a need for a motorsports trade meeting in Indianapolis, PRI officials are singing another tune.

“There was an attempt to start a second show in Daytona and one in North Carolina, and they both failed,” said PRI Vice President John Kilroy. “What the industry has said over and over is, they want one trade show where everyone meets. They don’t want to pay twice to meet the same buyers.”•


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