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This is just a small portion of the crowd I had to wind through while circling the entire exhibit floor four times.

PRI Days 3 and 4: Extracurricular Activities, Featuring the John Force Race Shop

John Gunnell has been writing about classic cars since 1972. He is also the owner of Gunner’s Great Garage in Manawa, Wis. He owns 11 cars and seven motorcycles.

EDITOR'S NOTE: THE SHOP Columnist John Gunnell journaled his adventures during the 2015 PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis. This is the third installment, documenting his experiences Friday (Dec. 11) and Saturday (Dec. 12) at the show. Click to read the first and second installments. See images with captions below.

FRIDAY

Friday morning started with a motel parking lot repair of Burton Brown’s Victory Motorsports pickup truck. The night before, my friend Dave Sarna had an encounter with some concrete that bent a tie rod end. The repair had to be finished by 9:30 a.m., to allow enough time to get to John Force’s race shop in Brownsburg, Indiana, by 10 a.m. 

Five of us chipped in to get the repair done as quickly as possible and we made it there by 10:03 a.m.—not too bad.

Machine Shop Manager Nic Barnes conducted the tour at John Force’s shop. We got to see the fleet of semis that carry the racing cars around the country and the computerized machines that turn chunks of aluminum billet into engine blocks, cylinder heads, blower housings and dozens of other racing car parts.

The humungous, super-neat, “industrial park” style building that houses Force's operation seems to go on forever. Inside is an all-encompassing shop that supports the Force family’s drag racing program. The exceptionally well equipped shop is designed for doing as much as possible in-house to maintain a high level of quality control over the race car builds. Force also manufactures a number of parts that other racers can purchase.

A special treat during the tour was getting a look at Force's collection of racing cars and other nostalgic items—from an old-fashioned mailbox, to a statue of Ronald MacDonald sitting on a bench. There were also a pair of motorcycles, a fleet of vintage bicycles and framed racing suits hanging on the wall.

BACK TO THE SHOW

Upon returning to the PRI Show at the Indiana Convention Center, I was introduced to George Callaway, the Mayor of El Mirage, California. El Mirage and its dry lake were one of Southern California's “cradles of hot rodding.” Calloway has been racing land speed-record cars since 1953 and shares the concern of many people that the environmental problems at the famous Bonneville Salt Flats, near Wendover, Utah, may jeopardize the future of racing there.

After interviewing Callaway, I took off on a quick last trip around the entire show to get an overall impression of PRI 2016. Parts that are stronger and lighter at the same time, high-tech electronics, very sophisticated engine technology and an increasing emphasis on engineering were some of the trends I noticed. 

There were also quite a few booths offering racing gear from the most stylish driver suits I’ve ever seen to wildly decorated helmets.

I was also struck by the diversity of the cars on display. They ranged from sleek Indy cars that looked like rocket ships, to Legends cars that looked like shrunken 1938 Ford Hollywood stock cars. There were winged Outlaw cars, nasty looking flat black Novas and a super clean 1969 Camaro with black sidewall tires and “doggie dish” hubcaps. The Sunnen booth featured an early 1950s-era dragster.

All in all, Friday was a big day and there were signs of booming business outside and inside the convention center. The parking lots all around the center had their “full” signs out. Exhibitors were running out of shopping bags and candy. And the racks that were stacked high with show directories earlier in the day were as empty as a NASCAR track on Monday morning.

SATURDAY AT THE SHOW

Between Wednesday and Friday, I circled the exhibit floor at the PRI Show at least four times, and checked out the trailers parked in the front and on one side of the Indiana Convention Center. Saturday was going-home day, but before taking off there was a seminar to attend at 8 a.m.

Many seminars at trade shows such as PRI are aimed at helping businesses run more profitably and efficiently. For example, the PRI Saturday schedule offered “SelerActive’s Tools to Grow Your E-Commerce Business.” 

At a racing trade show, a lot of seminars are also technical, such as “Engine Performance Optimization Using Real Time In-Cylinder Pressure Management.”

Since I’m involved with two Bonneville racing teams (and the “Save the Salt” effort to replenish the salt flats near Wendover, Utah), my Saturday morning was set aside for PRI’s “Opportunities in Land Speed Racing” seminar.

PRI Magazine Editor Dan Schechner moderated a panel discussion on the fluid state of land speed racing. The panel—consisting of Stuart Gosswein of SEMA, Tom Burkland of the Burkland Family Racing Team, Steve Watt of Maxwell Industries (Speed Demon) and LandSpeed Production CEO Louise Ann Noeth—discussed efforts currently underway to ensure a bright future for the sport,

The panel also discussed land speed-racing business opportunities for motorsports professionals (parts retailers, tuners, engine builders, fabricators, manufacturers), how racing entrepreneurs can get involved in the sport and the benefits of getting involved in this form of racing. The seminar was planned to run 45 minutes, but lasted almost and hour-and-a-half, including follow up questions.

FINAL THOUGHTS

By the time it was over, it was nearly lunchtime and I was ready to start the 8-hour trip home. During the drive, I churned over comparisons between my first visit to PRI in 2013 and my 2015 visit. To me it seemed that the show had grown in size in those two years and was better organized. I particularly liked the outdoor trailer parking and the Machinery Row section.

Since I wear the hat of an automotive historian, the expanded presence of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway “Hall of Fame” made the 2015 show extra special. And the side trip to the John Force race shop on Friday was icing on the cake. Indy is definitely America’s racing town and PRI seems to be thriving there.