SHOP TALK: My 2022 PRI Experience
For the last several years I have called myself a “gearhead-a-holic." I have shared many stories with all of you to back this statement up and hopefully make you feel you’re not alone with this addiction. I’ve recently come to realize I may not have been completely honest with myself and all of you. My addiction may be deeper than just cars and more horsepower.
You see I live this addiction 24-7. When I am not in my shop tinkering with something, I’m either in someone else’s shop tinkering or watching someone on TV who is. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, it doesn’t end here. I have a major OCD problem with tools. If I see something I don’t have in one of my toolboxes, whether I need it or not, I buy it. The very fact that I said one of my toolboxes should be setting off red flags. Yes, I have 86 drawers worth of tools in my shop and I’m in desperate need of more. To be perfectly clear, this does not count all of the tools that make their home in their carrying cases. Nor does it count all of the larger shop machines, welders, plasma cutter, and lift that cover my shop floor.
The reason I’m sharing this is because I’m fully aware that you have this same problem too. In order to help this therapy session reveal more of my sickness, I need to keep rambling on for a little more. You see, I’m also the consummate student who seeks knowledge daily. I have this thirst for wisdom that is impossible to quench. This thirst for wisdom continuously leads me to finding a new part that I need for my race car and/or a new tool I need to make a job easier. This process perpetuates itself and keeps my mind always on the hunt for performance.
I believe this sickness should be categorized with stages to help young gearheads understand where they are in the journey and provide them an opportunity for help and the ability to change hobbies before it gets to our level of insanity. Over the past year I noticed myself entering another stage of this addiction. I’m now completely consumed with building another shop that solves every problem I have in my current shop, as well as those I’ve heard from fellow gearhead-a-holics. The biggest epiphany I had while entering this new stage is making an enclosed area that is solely dedicated to metal work. Cutting, grinding, welding, plasma cutting, sanding, painting, and anything that makes a mess will be done in this portion of the new shop. My other sickness called OCD clean-freak-itis gives me mild heart attacks in my current shop whenever I have to fabricate something. Because of this sickness, my shop has to be hospital level clean daily. I really wish I could conquer this problem, but I’m 56 years old and it’s only getting worse. So, I’m fully welcoming my “dirty room” and look forward to making a mess in it. For those that really know me, I know you’re laughing at this statement and will bet your last dollar that my new stand alone “dirty room” will still be cleaner than your house.
While designing this new shop, I made the decision that I absolutely need a CNC plasma table. I had the hardest time custom making brackets, tabs, and braces for this mega mud truck project I am consumed with. I realized that my life would be so much easier if I had this machine at my disposal. The best part of this plan is that I actually sold my wife on bringing a new addition to the family. Is it a problem that I refer to my tools as members of the family? Anyway, I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. I may be the one who is admitting it at the moment, and I will assume that burden while others make fun of me and cast stones, but at least I’m admitting I have problems!
For those of you who have admitted you share this problem, I’ve found a place where you can go for three days and overindulge every possible gearhead addiction you may have. Not only is it legal to do this, but you will be surrounded with thousands of fellow addicts who will welcome you with open arms.
This mythical oasis I am referring to is called “THE PRI SHOW!” The PRI show is held in the famous race-city of Indianapolis. While Indy may be a small city, the PRI show is by no means small. In addition to packed halls and aisles bursting with the latest products, the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis host educational seminars, open and private meetings, networking events, advocacy activities, VIP appearances, and autograph signings throughout all three days. Exhibitor participation was up 10 percent this year, with more than 1,000 companies looking to connect with the tens of thousands of dedicated professionals in attendance.
This year’s PRI Show was special to me as I was sharing it with my gearhead soulmate Shawn. Shawn is our lead technical writer who besides being a master mechanic/fabricator, has a degree in engineering. Besides sharing this event with Shawn, this was my first post-Covid attendance. Having been a seasoned veteran, I wanted us to stay at a hotel that was connected to the convention center so we were free to come and go as we needed. As soon as we entered the hotel I recognized over a dozen professional racers and TV personalities. My PRI experience was already happening, and I haven’t even gotten my room key yet. We were in our hotel room just long enough to clean up, get dressed, and get my notebook out of the suit case. We had an action-packed first day filled with interviews, meetings, and of course drooling over cars and tools.
As we walked through the skywalk that connected our hotel to the convention center, I had the same feeling of getting off the monorail at Disney and entering the Magic Kingdom for the first time. It didn’t help that during my “skywalk experience” I recognized another dozen or more industry professionals all making their way to and from the show.
We’ve already established that I’m no different than you with my gearhead addiction and can’t seem to get enough of it in one day. As soon as we left the skywalk and entered the show floor we were bombarded with a display of amazing cars. Not just your ordinary show cars, but the very cars I’ve seen in magazines and on TV. May I mention that I have not really entered the actual PRI showroom, this was just the hallway that connected the rooms. May I add that PRI selected my car to be one of the featured cars on display this year. This was such a huge honor to me and one that I will never forget. I was in heaven but had to get myself into focus as I had several meetings with sponsors and my one and only interview scheduled that day. I put my business face on and tried my best to block out the peripheral scenery but that was like covering your ears when you are next to a Top Fuel Funny Car doing its burnout. I somehow successfully managed to get through all of my appointments for the day and began my assault on PRI one room at a time.
Walking the PRI show with me has its ups and its downs. I’ve been blessed to make numerous friends in the industry that are well known and seen on TV. Shaking hands and catching up is truly a highlight for me and a perk for whoever is with me. The downside is I’m such a gearhead that I spend hours looking at fasteners, gaskets, switches, and other less desirable parts. Why you may ask? Because they are ALL HERE and not in a catalog back home. I also enjoy looking at crankshafts, connecting rods, pistons, intake manifolds, ring and pinion gears, axles, and brakes. Fortunately for me, Shawn shares this same passion and the two of us had a blast.
Just when you think day one is over and you are going back to the hotel to grab some food, you notice entire race teams and TV celebrities sitting at the hotel bar enjoying time together. I recognized some old faces and joined in on the fun until they closed the doors on us. Back in our hotel room, Shawn and I are like two teenage girls and talked all night about our day.
The rest of our time at PRI was no different than the first day. We did our very best to see everything the show offered. This year in particular I spent a lot of time in machinery row looking at CNC machines, welding tables, and a million cool new tools. There are so many small companies who do not have the budget to advertise their innovative, time saving tools through conventional media. The PRI Show is the one event where I get to see all of these hidden treasures up close and actually get an opportunity to use them as they were designed to be used.
For the most part, every vendor booth we visited was staffed with friendly and knowledgeable people who were truly happy to be there and promote their products. Unfortunately, there were also a few that were either “holier than thou” and had no time to speak with us because our badge did not say “buyer,” or we weren’t a TV celebrity. A note to those who fell under that category, treat everyone as you want to be treated. Also, if someone wearing a media badge is highly interested in your product, you should stop whatever you’re doing and educate them on every detail of your business. The media can sell way more product than any so-called “buyer” as we are the essential link between products and customers. Sorry for that rant, but a few companies left a bad taste in my mouth by their ignorance and lack of excitement for being at the show.
Some of my favorite vendors that emerged from walking the halls of PRI were visiting the Billet Connection/Clearview Filtration booth. Mike and Jessica made everyone that entered their booth feel like family. Their demonstration and education on their products was truly a highlight of our trip. Mike is a wealth of information and knowledge who not only educates his guests but does it with enthusiasm, passion, and a kind heart. The staff at Holley, in particular Brian, helped me with numerous questions I had for the mega mud truck project we are doing a feature story on. My dear friends at Aeromotive had a spectacular booth with fully functioning fuel systems. Dave at QA1 gave us a wealth of information and help with an over the top 1928 Model A Tudor blown beast that Shawn is taking the lead on for a future feature article. As you all know, I’m a strong advocate for in-car safety and in an effort to continue to spread knowledge on safety I spent time with Danillo and my friends from G-Force Racing Gear working on part 2 of our “safety first” feature.
Another highlight of our trip was attending the 30 under 30 event hosted by Drag Illustrated. My dear and talented friend Rick is their portrait photographer and had many of his cover shots on display. My hat goes off to Drag Illustrated for paying respect to the youth of our industry and encouraging everyone in attendance to help nurture the next generation of gearheads. While standing with everyone in attendance, I couldn’t help but notice some of my favorite gearheads. Even into my 5th decade I still find it “cool” and inspiring to be in the presence of the likes of John Force, Greg Anderson, Jimmy Prock and Pat Musi. All of these legends were extremely friendly and willing to share their time talking about their passion.
My final highlight of PRI 2022 was being able to put a face to an email relationship I have developed with a product specialist. I went out of my way to locate and thank the people who have answered all of my technical phone questions while working on our projects and writing all of my articles.
My PRI 2022 experience far exceeded all of my expectations, and if my schedule permits, I will continue to make it a yearly trip. For any of you who are thinking of starting a project, I highly recommend going to PRI with a detailed list of parts and questions that you have. Speaking with a customer service agent over the phone is one thing. Being face to face with a product specialist and in some cases the actual designer is priceless. Not only will you get your questions answered, but each manufacturer personally knows someone from another company that you had another question about. They will work together to solve your problem and get you the parts that you need. Physically seeing and holding the parts in question help me tremendously. When doing custom work, there are so many variables that come into play. When I hold a part in my hand my brain begins to make sense of how I will make it work for my project. The show is held in early December which is a perfect time to revitalize you from a bad case of the winter blues. Not that it’s at all warm in Indy in December, but it feels like spring because it is filled with everything racing.
So if you’re planning on attending the PRI show in the future, be sure to bring a good pair of broken in walking shoes. And for the record, if you’re looking for help with being a "gearhead-a-holic," I think attending the PRI show is just what the doctor ordered.
Until Next Time