SEMA News— February 2022

EVENTS

On the Road Again With PRI

The Crew Visited Both Grassroots and Storied Racing Organizations Across the Nation in 2021 to Help Them Reconnect With the Industry

By Chad Simon

Sprinter

For the 2021 Road Tour, PRI purchased a black Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, which the crew used to travel across the country and visit various race tracks.

Since you can’t come to the show, we’re going to bring the show to you. That was the theme for the inaugural Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Road Tour held October–December 2020 when the organization summoned members of its creative department to travel to 100 race-parts manufacturers across the country and document their stories in the midst of a global pandemic.

The tour was a rapid response to the changing market when PRI was forced to cancel its 2020 trade show due to nationwide COVID-19 restrictions, according to Dr. Jamie Meyer, PRI president.

Well, the organization followed up on the first tour’s success and created a sequel last year: PRI Road Tour 2.0.

There were 21 stops on the 2021 tour, and because it will likely continue for at least a couple more years, PRI purchased a black Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, adorned it with the PRI Road Tour logo, and zig-zagged more than 11,500 mi. across the country, visiting some of the nation’s most illustrious race tracks along the way. The team started in mid-June at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and didn’t finish the tour until December 9 at the PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis. When all was said and done, the PRI crew had travelled six months straight, with extended stays lasting up to a week at a time.

The prior year, they drove from Indianapolis to Chicago to Michigan through Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, down to Atlanta, up to Memphis and over to Texas, seeing up to four manufacturers in a single day. They went home for Thanksgiving for three days, then headed back out to California to meet with Edelbrock as that company was leaving its old building in Torrance and moving to Memphis. The tour wrapped up in December at PRI headquarters in Aliso Viejo, California.

We spoke with some of PRI’s gracious hosts over the past two years to get their take on what the Road Tour meant to them, including Buzze Racing in Mooresville, North Carolina; Callies Performance Products in Fostoria, Ohio; ISP Seats in Concord, North Carolina; Northwestern Ohio Tractor Pullers Inc. in Bowling Green, Ohio; and Pikes Peak.

Initial Planning

Callies

Callies Performance Products, based in Fostoria, Ohio, hoped that by participating in the PRI Road Tour, people would begin to understand the process of what goes in to making a crankshaft.

From the initial team meeting back in 2020 to renting a van and developing a tentative schedule took about 10 days. PRI considered holding an online event similar to SEMA360 but felt that the racing industry was much more of a “touchy-feely-type” organization where attendees wanted to see more details than could be achieved through a virtual meeting. PRI’s trade show team—anchored by PRI Trade Show Director Karin Davidson—mapped out the tour, contacted exhibitors and put the plan together.

“We had a memorable team meeting where we talked about what our constituents wanted and what the race industry needed and how we could help all these people,” Meyer said. “Collectively, the PRI team came up with the concept of taking the show on the road and helping the exhibitors and racers tell their stories. We did what we’ve done for 30-plus years, which was to bring the racing industry together.”

PRI’s creative team interviewed at least two people at each stop and turned their stories into mini documentaries, which they posted on their social-media channels. Some manufacturers weren’t initially interested and didn’t want to invite traveling strangers into their facilities because of the pandemic. However, as some of the earlier videos from the tour began to rack up online views, others started reaching out to PRI, wanting to one-up some of the stories they had seen. Instead of having a 10-min. conversation in an exhibit booth with a manufacturer, PRI was spending four hours getting to know them and capturing them on camera making their products.

“We took our creative team right to our exhibitors’ manufacturing facilities and race tracks and let them tell their stories as if they were on the floor of the PRI Trade Show,” Meyer said. “Some of our companies have been with us for 35 years now—we call them charter members—and they were excited because no one had come out to see them before or asked them how they got started, what their breakthrough product was and what they thought of the PRI Trade Show. That’s what motivated us to go out there and help them. The content was amazing for the industry.”

Who’s Onboard

The core of the PRI Road Tour consisted of the van driver, Toby Hafer; Michelle Gallegos, PRI Road Tour operations manager; and a creative team led by Justin Cesler of Driveline Studios, which included photographers and cinematographers Andrew Link, Bryan Lambert and Ryan Walker. The crew members were transported to their locations safely and on time, fed three meals a day, and had a bed to sleep in every night. That allowed them to focus solely on their work and deliver the best content possible. At times, Tom Deery, PRI motorsports outreach ambassador and former track promoter, joined the tour and secured the credentials they needed. On a typical day, everyone was in the van by 8:00 a.m., then they’d go scout the venue.

“The Road Tour is a gift that keeps on giving,” Gallegos said. “We showed up at a time when nobody was showing up for anybody and nobody was producing content. Everyone was just trying to get by the best they could, and we rolled in, captured their stories on video, uploaded them to our social-media channels, promoted them, and gave them the content for free.”

PRI Road Tour 1.0

Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak was the first stop on the 2021 PRI Road Tour. In 2020, Pikes Peak amplified its livestream to create an off-mountain experience for its fans and spectators, since they were not able to attend due to COVID-19.

Buzze Racing in Moorseville, North Carolina, was a destination on the inaugural tour. Co-owner Tom Buzze said that he was thankful that PRI reached out to him and asked if the crew could stop by his facility after the trade show had been cancelled.

“We go to Indianapolis every year to meet with our customers, and it was awesome that they came to us since COVID restrictions wouldn’t allow them to have a show,” Buzze said. “We were given a chance to stay in touch with our customers. We always meet new people at the show, and we were still able to achieve that.”

The creative team came in, instructed Buzze and his guys to work as they normally would, and PRI just blended in as if they weren’t even there.

“Then they [PRI] shared the video online, and everything you saw was real,” Buzze said. “That’s how we are and how we work; we’re a family business. We had so many current and new customers call saying they saw the video and thought it was great. We got about 90,000 views, which just blew my mind.”

Those who didn’t know what Buzze Racing was previously had an opportunity to see firsthand how it operated.

“A lot of them race the way we run our business,” he said. “We’re family and friends. My son and I also race, so we’re not just in it for the business; we race because we love the sport.”

The following week, after having visited a handful of other local companies, the Road Tour crew packed up its gear and headed 30 min. south to Concord, where the team met Ziggy and Kim Zeggert, co-owners of ISP Seats. The Zeggerts had heard about the tour, so Kim emailed PRI and invited the Road Tour over. Even though ISP Seats is a small shop, the PRI Trade Show is where the business could get in front of existing customers to reaffirm relationships, and also new customers who wouldn’t know what they do. Unfortunately, the tour schedule had already been set by that time, but Ziggy received a call from PRI later informing him that there was a cancellation the following week and asking if the crew could swing by.

“I’m a ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ kind of guy,” Ziggy said. “My shop is a working shop. We’re a small group of guys, and PRI saw the real thing—the nuts and the bolts of what we do.”

When COVID-19 plunged the world into lockdown in 2020, the race tracks and series shut down for the season. Drag racing was the only thing that kept ISP Seats afloat because, being televised, they didn’t need a fan base.

“We were going gangbusters up until March 2020,” Ziggy said. “It’s been a challenge, but it also gave us a chance to think outside the box about other ways to do business.”

Following the release of the video, the Zeggerts said people came in and told them they’d seen it online, which helped ISP Seats connect with the public at a time in this world of COVID-19.

“PRI has such a larger digital footprint than we have, and the fact that we could get anything of ours into that larger digital market honestly probably saved our business from closing,” Kim said. “We rely on every customer and repeat customer, and to be able to partner with PRI and use its larger platform helped us immensely. We’re still seeing returns from it in ways we don’t even know.”

ISP Seats tries to present a professionalism and realism unlike anywhere else, and PRI was able to convey those qualities to its audience, according to Ziggy.

“I do what I do, and I try to provide a product that conveys and expresses safety for everyone who does business with us,” he said. “If you’re in the seat and racing business to become a millionaire, then get out. That’s not what you’re there for. You’re there to provide safety, encouragement and direction. Everything else happens because it happens. The PRI platform allows guys like us to be able to do just that.”

PRI Road Tour 2.0

Tractor

The National Tractor Pulling Association (NTPA), located in Bowling Green, Ohio, hosts the largest truck and tractor pull in the country. Similar to the engines that power Top Alcohol Funny Car runs, this 10,000hp 557ci Hemi blown alcohol engine features Ken Veney cylinder heads with BAE blocks and SSI superchargers.

After visiting with manufacturers in 2020, PRI decided to tour the nation’s race tracks in 2021 as the racing industry was in the process of reemerging from the COVID-19 lockdown. Consumers had bought race parts and worked on their cars, and they didn’t hesitate when they could finally go racing.

“Folks had a lot of energy to get out there with their community, so we wanted to be there to capture some of the best racing,” Meyer said. “We covered a lot of different types of racing, including dirt track, drag racing—from the high end with NHRA down to grassroots with NMCA and Street Car Takeover—Gridlife, carting, and culminating on December 9 when the van pulled into the PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis. It was great to see the diversity of motorsports, meet new people and get feedback about what the industry needed.”

Last year’s tour kicked off June 21–27 with the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, which is holding its 100th running this year.

“PRI approached us fairly close to the start of the Road Tour and told us they wanted Pikes Peak to be the first stop,” said Lisa Haight, event coordinator and historian. “They were here for about five days, and they drove the whole process of getting content. Our goal was to give them a great race and media experience, get them access to competitors, and help them logistically. They were easy to work with because they knew what they wanted and we just facilitated.”

Last August, the crew made a pitstop at Callies—a manufacturer of engine components—on the way to the National Tractor Pulling Championships in Bowling Green, Ohio. Callies wanted to provide an inside glimpse at how it machined parts.

“Our hope was to get the message out to people that this is what goes into making a crankshaft,” said Brook Piper, Callies sales manager. “It’s not as simple as just buying one machining center, flipping a switch and spitting a crank out the other end.”

According to Piper, Callies has been affiliated with PRI for so long that the company signed up to be a founding member. The bond between the two has only grown stronger as a result of the quality time they spent together on the tour.

“We’ve been a part of PRI since the beginning,” Piper said. “Everything they did—the filming, communications—they knocked it out of the park. They went by us the first year, so we told them we wanted to be a part of the tour in 2021. We went with them to Bowling Green for the National Tractor Pull and spent the whole day together. If the opportunity gets presented to any other company, I would highly advise it.”

PRI actually contacted the Northwestern Ohio Tractor Pullers Inc.’s sanctioning body—the National Tractor Pulling Association (NTPA)—and told that group that PRI wanted to feature the association’s sport. The NTPA replied that the tour needed to go to Bowling Green, which hosted the largest truck and tractor pull in the country, attracting 80,000 spectators over the course of the weekend. That’s where the PRI Road Tour crew met Dave Schultz, Northwestern Ohio Tractor Pullers Inc. secretary/media director.

“It was neat to have Dr. Meyer there to address our crowd,” Schultz said. “He gave a quick reflection about what PRI does. He told me that he’d never seen a crowd as passionate for motorsports, and it made me feel good. We already knew this, but to watch the initial reaction of someone who had never been there was amazing.”

The tractors compete in various classes on a 320-ft.-long track based on how far they’re able to pull metal sleds weighted with up to 55,000 lbs. and is laser-
measured for distance down to 1/100,000th of an inch. Schultz said that he received positive feedback from people who saw the video PRI shot and uploaded to its social channels, and that the association couldn’t wait for next year’s event. He believes that being part of the Road Tour will help bring in new fans.

RPM Act

Along the way, PRI discovered a common concern among many of the manufacturers and race track operators with whom the tour met. At PFI Speed in Fort Lupton, Colorado, owner Brent Leivestad had recently received a sizable fine from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“We had a chance to talk with him, and he told us his story, which we shared on our YouTube channel,” Meyer said. “It was the most watched piece we had ever put up, with 400,000 views [as of press time]. This EPA overreach that is driving the RPM [Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports] Act is what SEMA has been working on for five or six years now. That advocacy is what I’ve heard loud and clear, and that is what drives me to help this industry and make sure we can keep racing in America for many more decades.”

Callies also expressed concern about EPA overreach and wanted to spread the word about the RPM Act.

“We’re more hardcore internal engine parts guys, so if there’s no racing, there’s not going to be a need for our product,” Piper said. “It’s important for everyone to get behind the RPM Act. I’m not sure if the racers really understand how critical this is.”

The National Tractor Pulling Championships represent a major economic impact to Northwest Ohio of more than $37 million per year for the three-day event. Last year was the 54th running, and Schultz fears that tractor pulling will cease to exist if the EPA gets its way.

“We want to continue putting the championships on every year,” he said. “If the EPA outlaws motorsports, we’re not going to be able to do that. This is a huge passion for our 225 members, and if they take this away from us, it’s not going to be good. I truly love the sport of truck and tractor pulling, and knowing that PRI is in our corner fighting for us to keep having this event is very important.”

When the pandemic started to spread across the United States in 2020, PRI called race tracks to find out how they could help them open.

“As I was having conversations with the racetrack operators, they all knew about the RPM Act, but they didn’t understand how it was affecting the industry,” Gallegos said. “They started talking about how the EPA was going to kill all these track operators if we didn’t stop them. When we visited some of the manufacturers, they told us that they no longer made certain products because they didn’t want to be fined by the EPA. This was our opportunity to use this tour to reconnect with the racers. Races were happening, we knew people were showing up in droves, and we needed to get out there and better protect, serve, promote and grow the industry.”

In addition to gaining awareness by hitting the grandstands, pits, lanes and midways with RPM Act information, PRI’s other goal for the tour last year was to remind racers that there would be a show in December and to sign them up.

“We learned that a lot of people were affected in certain ways and were concerned about the racing industry, but we also learned that racers are racers, and they’re showing us how to get back out there and get the show going again,” Gallegos said. “They inspired me, and I learned a lot because they’re racing and they’re passionate about it. Their resilience and the way they’ve bounced back gives me so much hope for the industry. The racing community is becoming more tightly knit and supportive of each other.”

Safety Protocols

PRI

The PRI Road Tour 2.0 crew (left to right): Toby Hafer, van driver; Justin Cesler, Driveline Studios; Tom Deery, PRI motorsports outreach ambassador and former track promoter; Michelle Gallegos, PRI Road Tour operations manager; Andrew Link, photographer; Bryant Lambert, cinematographer; and Ryan Walker, cinematographer.

During the first Road Tour in 2020, when the pandemic was raging and there was no vaccine, strict protocols had to be followed, and each stop was different. Some folks were open, and some had restrictive health requirements. There was a temperature and wellness check every morning before anyone could even step inside the van.

“We were ready to end the tour if someone got sick on the van, but everyone was conscious of their health and, more importantly, the people they were visiting,” Meyer said. “Thankfully, no one got sick on either tour, but because we were at race tracks last year, we were more concerned with mechanical injury with cars and people moving around. We ensured that our photographers and cinematographers were conscious of the dangers involved in being at a racetrack.”

The COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020 drastically impacted races across the world, and Pikes Peak was no exception. According to Daniel Rodriguez, director of operations, 2020 was the first year in the race’s history that the organizers weren’t able to have fans on the mountain. Trying to overcome all the hurdles of keeping their competitors and everyone who was permitted to be there as safe as possible without the fan aspect was an enormous challenge.

“We beefed up our livestream for the first time—which we continued last year and will again this year—to create that off-mountain experience for our fans and spectators, since they were not able to be there in person,” Rodriguez said. “There were local, state and federal guidelines that we needed to get approval for and follow, and it was logistically a nightmare.”

Growing an Audience

The Road Tour has enabled PRI to broaden its audience. It reached upward of 100 million unique people through Road Tour 2.0 on its various social channels. The YouTube channel has seen significant growth. The team experimented with Tik Tok and found a large audience of female race fans that they’d never identified before.

“We are expanding the strategy of who we’re talking to and who we’re reaching—not just hardcore longtime race fans, but also people who are just starting to fall in love with motorsports in the United States,” Meyer said. “For me, that’s quite a development,”

As an industry outlet with a finger on the pulse of the motorsports industry for the past 35 years, PRI can help racers and manufacturers reach millions of people through the stories it tells.

“When PRI puts content out, people expect it to be great, and they pay attention to it because they’re the top tier in the racing world,” Haight said. “Everyone is so excited to be at Pikes Peak; it’s a bucket list event for so many.”

Future Plans

PRI has Board support to continue the tour for another two years at least and plans to expand its opportunities by pitching Netflix the idea to turn the PRI Road Tour into a series.

The team invites feedback regarding the next topic of focus. According to Meyer, they’re weighing two concepts: one where they would spend a couple of days with the greatest engine builders in motorsports and learn the secrets of how they assemble their engines, and the other is “in search of speed,” where the team would be at the race track with some of the fastest cars in the world.

“We’ll probably see some variants of those two concepts, but I’d love for our audience to tell us where we should point the camera next,” Meyer said.

Through the Road Tour, PRI has inspired and been inspired. According to Gallegos, the team never would have thought to go see tractors pulling 40,000 pounds down a dirt track, but it was one of the biggest events they witnessed. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and treated the PRI crew like royalty.

“We want to keep getting into those markets where people have never heard of us or don’t know that they need to be at the PRI Trade Show and capture the markets that we haven’t necessarily captured before,” Gallegos said. “The real opportunity is when we’re live with these people and they can see our excitement for our show. The tours keep evolving, so we have to continue to get the message out there, build the brand and support the community.”

For more information and to view photos and videos from the PRI Road Tour, visit www.performanceracing.com/roadtour.

For information about the PRI Membership program and how to sign up,
visit www.performanceracing.com/membership.

2021 PRI Road Tour Schedule

June 21–27
Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
olorado Springs, Colorado

July 14
Dirt Car Summer Nationals
Indianapolis, Indiana

July 15
IMS Museum
Speedway, Indiana

July 16–17
Kings Royal
Rossburg, Ohio

July 21
Berlin Raceway
Marne, Michigan

July 22
Rally North America
Gingerman, Michigan

July 23–25
NMCA/NMRA
Martin, Michigan

August 19–21
National Tractor Pulling Championships
Bowling Green, Ohio

September 3–5
Crandon World Championships
Crandon, Wisconsin

September 9–12
Gridlife
South Haven, Michigan

September 13–17
Hot Rod Drag Week
Five Cities, Five Days

September 17–18
Street Car Takeover
St. Louis, Missouri

October 7–10
Super Dirt Week
Oswego, New York

October 15
Magic 8/No Mercy 12
Valdosta, Georgia

October 22–23
Indy Autonomous Challenge
Indianapolis, Indiana

October 29–31
Dodge/SRT NHRA Nationals
Las Vegas, Nevada

November 2–5
SEMA Show
Las Vegas, Nevada

December 9–11
PRI Trade Show
Indianapolis, Indiana

2021 PRI Road Tour by the Numbers

Tour Dates: June 21–December 11

Visit Statistics:

  • 174 tour days in all.
  • 21 tour stops completed.
  • Approximately 11,500 miles travelled.
  • 10 states visited: Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Social Media Metrics
(June 2021–November 2021)

  • More than 80.6 million impressions on PRI’s social-media channels since the start of the Road Tour.
  • More than 54.1 million unique people reached.
  • More than 2.5 million video views since the start of the Road Tour, with 692,000 video views on YouTube and another 1.9 million on TikTok.
  • More than 1.7 million engagements.
QRSources

Buzze Racing
1018 Gateway Dr., Ste. C
Mooresville, NC 28115
704-664-8907
www.buzzeracing.com

Callies Performance Products
901 South Union St.
Fostoria, OH 44830
419-435-2711
www.callies.com

ISP Seats
4502 Raceway Dr. SW
Concord, NC 28027
www.ispseats.com

Northwestern Ohio Tractor Pullers Inc.
1150 Haskins Rd.
Bowling Green, OH 43402
419-354-1434
www.pulltown.com

Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
1631 Mesa Ave., Ste. E
Colorado Springs, CO 80906
www.ppihc.com

MembershipPerformance Racing Industry (PRI)
27081 Aliso Creek Rd., Ste. 150
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
949-499-5413
www.performanceracing.com

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