Still stinging from the city’s loss of the giant Performance Racing Industry trade show in 2004, a group of local motorsports
business advocates is racing to put on a competing event.
Organizers of the upstart International Motorsports Industry Show are not being bashful about their intentions: They want
the new show to eventually supplant PRI’s as the premier event of its kind for motorsports businesses.
But they’re willing to start with baby steps. They’ve signed a deal to hold their inaugural show in 113,000 square feet of
the Indiana Convention Center Dec. 2-3. That’s just a week before PRI’s show, which is now held in Orlando, where it fills
1 million square feet of convention space.
If the new show succeeds, it would help the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association recoup business lost when PRI headed
But that’s not all that’s driving the founders of the new show–Indiana Motorsports Association Executive Director Tom Weisenbach,
local race parts shop owner Chris Paulsen and Stoops Freightliner CEO Jeff Stoops.
They say PRI has diluted its value to the motorsports industry by bringing in too many exhibitors with tenuous ties to the
sport. And they say the Orlando location is inconvenient to most of the attendees. Weisenbach said his trade group’s research
shows 80 percent of motorsports-related firms are within a one-day drive of Indianapolis.
PRI organizers are already discounting the new show’s chances of success.
"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."
But some within the industry said if IMIS reaches its goals, they’ll abandon the PRI show.
"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."
Robert Buchanan, president of Bo-Mar Industries, a locally based race-car parts maker, said his company would skip Orlando
if the show here became even one-third the size.
"A trade show in Indianapolis is so much more efficient. You can easily network after the show, and that’s where a lot of
business is done. In Orlando, we have a 15-minute drive from our hotel to the trade show, and everyone scatters after the
show closes for the day."
PRI too diverse?
PRI was born of the need for a specialty motorsports trade show. Other events, like the Specialty Equipment Market Association
trade show in Las Vegas, focused more broadly on the automotive industry.
Louisville was the site of the first PRI Trade Show in 1988. Since then, the PRI annual event has been held in Nashville,
Tenn.; Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; and Indianapolis.
PRI officials said each move was driven by the show’s growth and the need for more space. But some think the added space has
caused PRI to lose its focus.
The founders of the local show said PRI started to diversify beyond motorsports while still in Indianapolis, but that the
trend accelerated significantly with the move to Orlando, where organizers had three times the booth space to sell.
"We want a show more focused on the racing industry," said Robertson, whose California company makes and distributes parts
primarily for sprint and midget car teams. "We don’t want a show that’s showcasing motor homes, selling T-shirts and demonstrating
golf simulators. That’s what PRI has become.
"Indianapolis is the motorsports capital of the world," Robertson said. "There are a lot of companies connected to racing,
and not just open-wheel, in and around Indianapolis, and that’s where we want to be."
That’s just what the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association wants to hear. It’s charged with filling an expanded convention
center when it opens in 2010.
PRI’s annual trade show, which attracted 1,350 exhibitors and 40,000 attendees in 2008, had a seven-year run here before departing
for Orlando and its larger convention center.
PRI officials initially promised to come back in 2011 if the convention center was enlarged, but reneged on that deal last
year because the show is now too big for even the expanded convention center.
The $275 million project now under construction will expand the convention center to 564,000 square feet of exhibition space.
There will be 749,000 square feet of exhibit space, including Lucas Oil Stadium.
"The organizers of this event have passion and vision, and they’ll have the full support of the ICVA and its resources behind
it," said Don Welsh, ICVA CEO.
From zero to 60
IMIS organizers already have hired eight salespeople to recruit exhibitors nationwide and in England and are currently looking
for a full-time director.
Paulsen and Stoops raised the curtain on their idea two weeks before the PRI show last December and have been aggressively
marketing the event ever since. In May, IMIS will begin a nationwide ad campaign through nine industry trade publications
and direct mail.
The show’s organizers estimate the inaugural event will bring Indianapolis $5 million in direct visitor spending. That pales
in comparison to the $27 million PRI brought in as the city’s third-largest trade show back in 2004. Weisenbach and Paulsen
said if IMIS hits its projections, it will rival what PRI was to the city within five years.
IMIS organizers say they’ve signed up 105 exhibitors in three months. Weisenbach estimates the show will attract 250 to 275
exhibitors and 10,000 visitors the first year, with a goal of doubling that the second year.
"We have every intention of taking up every square inch of the convention center within three or four years," Paulsen said.
Long term, event organizers have even bigger plans.
"We want to have a week-long motorsports extravaganza, holding technical training and safety seminars along with hosting year-end
sanctioning bodies’ annual championship gatherings," Weisenbach said.
And in return for ICVA’s support, IMIS organizers have made a pledge.
"We’re Indiana guys," Weisenbach said, "and we have no intention of ever leaving Indianapolis."