The PRI Show kicked off with its traditional Grand Opening Breakfast, a Showgoer-favorite that, this year, featured an inspiring conversation between motorsports host Ralph Sheheen and 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan. Weaving stories from Kanaan’s youth and early days of racing, to his connection with industry icon Ayrton Senna and, ultimately, his triumph in the Indy 500–Kanaan’s message was one of perseverance and dedication to excellence. It was an inspiring message for everyone in attendance, and as Sheheen pointed out to the crowd, “The PRI Show is your Indy 500.” With an extra bit of motivation, the green flag flew on the 35th PRI Show!
Tens of thousands of attendees filled the halls of the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium to see the latest innovations from more than 1,100 exhibitors, including Wharton Automotive Group, who revealed the launch of its newest brand, FTI Performance Parts.
The new company, helmed by operations manager Ken Kelly Jr., will complement Wharton’s current portfolio of McLeod, FTI and Silver Sport Transmissions brands with a lineup of available performance-engineered driveline components, including converter kits, cases and bellhousings, clutch hubs and more. It will operate out of a 37,000-sq.-ft. facility in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania and aims to serve a need in the still-booming racing and performance markets by providing much-needed parts to builders and racers, said Paul Lee, president of Wharton Automotive Group.
“Since COVID, transmission and converter rebuilders around the country have had a hard time getting parts, and even FTI Converters, we were having a hard time getting parts,” Lee said. “So we said, ‘why not just up our purchase orders and get a bigger inventory, a bigger space and stock it with parts?’”
The expansion signals a still-healthy industry, Lee said, primed for a new source of all things driveline.
“[The market] is still very strong,” he said. “The performance aftermarket is still a strong place to be, and that’s where we want to excel.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Gavin Knapp, PRI’s director of market research, who discussed the organization’s latest data during the “State of the Racing Market” seminar.
During the presentation, Knapp highlighted the staggering growth of the industry since 2020, which has leveled out in recent months, but emphasized the optimism of much of the racing world.
“Spring 2020 was a defining breakpoint for racing. We’ve really seen a lot of rebuilding and regrowth. For a couple of years, it was this ‘boomtown’ era,” Knapp said. “We’re now in a spot where we’re settling down, and largely companies are doing well, but tracks are the most optimistic.”
In fact, 68% of race tracks are planning on holding as many or more events at their facilities in the coming year compared to 2023, according to PRI’s market research. Motorsports manufacturers are also feeling optimistic, with half of surveyed companies expecting to see sales growth this year.
Another sign of a healthy industry is new product releases, as Engine Ice, a provider of performance coolants, arrived at the PRI Show with a new offering, expanding out from its powersports roots. Although still in development, the company brought its new Engine Ice Hot Rod Coolant to the Show floor, which it is preparing to introduce in spring 2024. The new coolant is made with propylene glycol, said Scott Lukaitis, director of marketing and sales at Engine Ice, and joins a product line that includes powersports products and Ice Water Racing Coolant.
While full specifications are still being finalized, Lukaitis said the new product is expected to be environmentally friendly, thanks to its propylene glycol and organic-acid makeup, and aims to offer increased performance for hot-rodders.
Later in the day, the National Tractor Pullers Association (NTPA)/National Tractor Pulling Championship announced a new title sponsorship for the event, its first in 20 years. Dave Schultz, president of Northwest Ohio Tractor Pullers, promoter of the Championships, introduced Maxam Tire, a manufacturer and distributor of tires for agricultural, construction and other applications, as its new title partner. The deal, Schultz said, is a bellwether for the state of the sport.
“Corporations are seeing what tractor pulling is doing,” he said, “and they like what they see.”