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Performance Racing Industry Trade Show

Updates from the final day of Indy's PRI show

December 9, 2023, 7:57 am
From staff reports
The sign at the Indiana Convention Center. (DirtonDirt.com)
The sign at the Indiana Convention Center. (DirtonDirt.com)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 8) — The Indiana Convention Center doors reopen Saturday for the final day of 2023’s Performance Racing Industry Trade Show, where more than 40,000 attendees are expected to check out more than 1,000 companies over 750,000 square feet floor space making up more than 3,600 booths, many with a Dirt Late Model focus. Saturday's blog-style notebook (complete PRI coverage):

4:31 p.m. | Signing off

When Indiana Convention Center workers remove the snacks and decorative houseplants from the PRI Trade Show's media room, it must be time to wrap up event coverage. That said, we're signing off on our live blogging from another year at the Indianapolis trade show.

Be on the lookout for more stories from the event, including a story on Cody Overton bound for the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series tour next year with the Tri Star Engines and Transmissions team, as well as Steve Francis' efforts to grow the WoO tour.

If you couldn’t attend or perhaps missed some of our coverage, look back through the PRI index page to catch up.

3:51 p.m. | Bernheisel's growing promotions

Path Valley Speedway’s addition to the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series schedule in 2024 may have caught many by surprise as the Spring Run, Pa., quarter-mile makes its national touring debut next season. But Jim Bernheisel? Not in the slightest. It also helps he’s the reason and facilitator behind the deal.

One day this year, Bernheisel — the owner of Jonestown, Pa.’s Lazer Chassis and director of the revived Appalachian Mountain Speedweek — picked up the phone and called WoO series director Steve Francis pitching the idea of his tour at Path Valley. Francis gladly said yes, and now Bernheisel’s the promoter of the May 19 event, along with partners and co-promoters Todd Benner of Selinsgrove Ford and Jasen Geesaman of Appalachian Auto.

Bernheisel’s able to promote the event because he’s leasing Path Valley from track promoter John Wincett.

“Through gaining relationships with the track promoters and owners in the area with the series, I think they trust me with it,” Bernheisel said. “I was looking for something unique. We race big tracks around us. And I like them, right? I’m not the guy that doesn’t like big tracks. They’re fine. One of the things I like about our sport are all the different venues.”

Bernheisel has really stepped out these past few seasons to become a bona fide ambassador of Dirt Late Model racing in Central Pennsylvania. His growing credibility by successfully reviving Appalachian Mountain Speedweek while promoting other regional events has given him a taste of the impact he has in the region.

A friend of his called him a “caretaker” recently of regional racing in his backyard, a term that Bernheisel highly appreciated.

“I want to do something for Late Model racing in our area,” Bernheisel said. “A friend of mine recently sent me a message saying he’s proud of me for evolving from being a participant of Late Model racing in our area to a supporter of it, to a caretaker of it. I was really flattered by that. That kind of sums up what I’m trying to do.

“This stems back to Speedweek. Super Late Model racing in our regions, Central Pennsylvania specifically, is underrated and undervalued nationally by mostly everyone. I think that’s incorrect and a mistake. I think I can play a hand in reversing that or increasing our exposure.”

While Pennsylvania is most known for its spacious half-miles — namely Port Royal Speedway, Selinsgrove Speedway, Bedford Speedway and even Lernerville Speedway — Bernheisel loves Path Valley because it reminds him of a track he adores in the Midwest: Macon (Ill.) Speedway.

“It’s one of the coolest places. To me, Path Valley is Pennsylvania’s Macon,” Bernheisel said, comparing it to the famed fifth-mile Illinois oval. “I just think it’ll be a killer show. The fans have responded great to the Super Late Model races that were at Path Valley this past year. They always come out very enthusiastic, which we don’t have an event without the fans fully invested. It just seemed like it fit all my criteria.”

Port Royal losing its series date that’s been in place since 2017 (except ’20) isn’t the reason Path Valley entered the equation either.

“We were going to have that date anyway,” Bernheisel said. “The original concept included some of the tracks that weren’t having a date now. And that’s all between them and the sanctioning bodies. I’m not involved in that. I have my opinions, but they don’t really matter. Whatever is good for the sport is good for me, which is another reason this promotional venture came about.”

1:35 p.m. | Mayfield back on dirt

Chances are Jeremy Mayfield will likely never become a full-fledged dirt racer, but that’s not preventing him from assembling a new Dirt Late Model and pursing more opportunities in the division. The full-time NASCAR Cup driver from 1995 through ’05 — and five-time winner at NASCAR’s highest level — has purchased a new Train Chassis ahead of the new season.

The Hickory, N.C., journeyman didn’t enter a single Dirt Late Model event this year and plans to change that next year.

“I still have my stuff. I was never really into it full time, like all the way,” Mayfield said. “I still have my cars. I’m going to run a few races here and there whenever I want to, whenever we can. I’m going to focus on this right now, the Grand National Super Series. But I like dirt racing. I’ll do that a little bit on the side.”

Mayfield was an eight-time winner on the Grand National Super Series this past season, a stock car tour in the Southeast that just completed its sophomore season and an entity the 54-year-old is helping grow. His last logged Dirt Late Model event came in Aug. 2022, where he finished seventh in an 18-car USA World 50 field at Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway, a race won by Tanner English.

Next year Mayfield sees handful of Dirt Late Model races — “If that,” he said — on his schedule. Lavonia (Ga.) Speedway; Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C.; and Toccoa (Ga.) Raceway are racetracks up his alley to compete at.

“Unless I get a better (Dirt Late Model) deal for me, but right now I plan on running (asphalt stock cars),” Mayfield said. “I’ve never been serious with it like I want to be, but I’ve always raced a few races here and there pretty much.”

Mayfield also said he has an upcoming announcement — a part-time ride where he can race the FloRacing-streamed zMAX CARS Tour — that he’s excited about.

“Compared to my asphalt, (my dirt skillset is) way off,” Mayfield said. “If I’m a 10 on asphalt, I’m probably a five on dirt. But I know where I want to be. I know how to get there. It just takes resources to do it. I’m willing to learn. That’s the biggest thing about dirt racing. You learn something every time you run. And try to figure it out.”

12:50 p.m. | Pressing on

Doug Van Den Brink’s advancement as a Dirt Late Model driver slowed dramatically in 2023, but the 50-year-old road racer isn’t giving up on his late-in-life change in racing discipline.

After his year-plus run as a second team driver for Colton Miller’s JCM Motorsports ended early this year, Van Den Brink went to work assembling his own Crate Late Model program. He managed to enter only a handful of ’23 events, but he’s pointing toward a much busier season ahead.

“This year was a bit of a challenge,” Van Den Brink said on Saturday morning while browsing through the Indiana Convention Center. “(JCM) just decided that two cars was not something they were interested in. We’re all still buddies (but) the situation really came out of the blue, it wasn’t what we had planned on. It really cut down my racing this year, for the simple fact that we had to go buy new cars.”

A Porsche Driving School instructor at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Ala., who has competed all over the world in an assortment of sports cars and open-wheel cars, Van Den Brink now has Longhorn Chassis after running Rockets during his first full season of Dirt Late Model action in 2022. He’s also switched to Bilstein Shocks and has Northern Alabama’s Twister Performance building his engines.

Van Den Brink said “if all things work out right” he will debut his new car in Dec. 29-30’s Crate Racin’ USA event at 411 Motor Speedway in Seymour, Tenn. A positive outing would likely lead him to tackle Jan. 5-6’s Ice Bowl at Talladega Short Track in Eastaboga, Ala., to set him up for a 2024 season in which he plans to follow the full Crate Racin’ USA schedule along with other selected events.

Improving as a Dirt Late Model driver — and perhaps moving up to the Super Late Model division in the future — is Van Den Brink’s immediate goal. He understands the degree of difficulty in his transition to dirt, not only behind the wheel but also with gaining the attention of manufacturers in the class.

“There’s so many established guys in the dirt business,” Van Den Brink said. “You know, in road racing, it’s a very short career span. In dirt racing, I’m not the oldest guy out there, so you’re trying to be the new kid — new guy — on the block, and I’m talking, let’s just say, to Wilwood Brakes. How long has Wilwood Brakes been on (for instance) Jonathan Davenport’s car? How long has Wilwood Brakes been on Jimmy Owens’s car? The challenge with sponsorship, you have to be able to offer that vendor, or that partner, something that they don’t already have. It’s pretty tough for me to come in and say, ‘Hey, by the way, I’ve only been doing this for a year-and-a-half, two years, and I need to get the same kind of product support and/or financial support that you give the guy that’s been the Dirt Late Model guru for the last 30 years.’

“But the good news is, we do have good relationships with these vendors, but the relationships continue more on loyalty and less on really what we can do over anybody else, because, quite frankly, Jimmy Owens can sit here in an autograph session and clearly pull a way bigger crowd than Doug Van Der Brink will, so I have to look at that and be realistic and be like, ‘OK, how can we then give these guys something that these other guys don’t?’ We’ve been working on that to make ourselves relevant in this market place and that’s always a challenge.”

12:29 p.m. | WISSOTA Challenge schedule

The Structural Buildings WISSOTA Challenge Series didn’t announces purses on its 21-race schedule except for one race. And it was a big one.

Aug. 10’s event at ABC Raceway in Ashland, Wis., will pay a WISSOTA-, track- and series-record $20,444-to-win as the finale of the six-race XR Northern Storm miniseries that’s included on the WISSOTA Challenge slate.

Minnesota tracks host 16 of 21 races, the most in series history and second to the 13 events hosted in Minnesota last season. One race is in South Dakota and four are in Wisconsin, including the Chris Stepan-directed tour’s first trip to Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis., in five seasons. Find the full schedule here.

11:28 a.m. | Schram stepping up

Dustin Schram is preparing to make the jump to open-competition Super Late Model racing next season, the 2022 IMCA Late Model National Rookie of the Year eagerly shared while perusing the Indiana Convention Center on Saturday.

The Sterling, Ill., driver is eyeing bigger events — perhaps the DIRTcar Summer Nationals — at Peoria (Ill.) Speedway and Sycamore (Ill.) Speedway, as well as some MARS Championship Series races, too.

“We’re done IMCA racing and going to go some more regional stuff of where we’re at,” the 31-year-old Schram said. “We’re going to race some SLMR stuff (with the Malvern Bank East and West Series).”

Schram, a former modified racer whose resume includes more than 50 wins, purchased a new Lazer Chassis from Jim Bernheisel at the PRI Trade Show, too, as an accompanying decision with the step up. The Pennsylvania-based chassis company isn’t as well-known in the Quad Cities area, so Schram’s hoping to start a transcendent partnership.

“Yup, just put the down payment on it yesterday,” Schram said. “I like the way the cars are built. They’re built stout, and with what I do — a lot of short-track stuff — I think they’ll take a beating. Them Illinois tracks aren’t always the smoothest. I just have to go with what I think is strong structural-wise. There’s a lot of triangulation with what I build in the modifieds I do. I’ll race a car 140 nights and not think twice about racing another 140 because I know where to lift.

“I’m excited. I think those guys are pretty excited, too, to get a car in the Quad Cities area. We’re going to go out in January to their open house and seminar and hopefully learn a lot. Those guys are very helpful. I spent probably four hours talking with them before I decided to do it. I’m excited. Actually, beyond excited.”

Schram’s used a MasterSbilt chassis in his first two seasons of Late Model competition. What he’s most enjoyed is building his own motors. Now he’ll have the opportunity to separate himself with a chassis builder nobody else foreseeably has in the Quad Cities region.

“If I get something figured out that nobody else can — like everybody has Rockets and Longhorns and MasterSbilts and everything out there — I’m going to have something nobody else has,” Schram said. “If I can figure something out that nobody else has, I can keep it for myself. It’s kind of like building a car for myself and then figuring it out. Nobody else has those guys (out in the Quad Cities area), so maybe we can help them, too; help them sell some cars this year. I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”

10:41 a.m. | Tri-County’s fate

The modest 3/8-mile oval nestled in the western North Carolina mountains known as Tri-County Racetrack is special to veteran driver Ray Cook of Brasstown, N.C., because it’s where he grew up racing and where he’s spent the last dozen years promoting his hometrack track.

But the track’s fate is uncertain with the owners electing to put the 30-acre property up for sale and deciding against Cook’s continued operation of the track while it’s listed. Cook, working in the American Racer booth during the trade show, hopes a buyer is found soon who will allow Cook to continue promoting the track, but nothing’s certain for now, he said Friday afternoon.

Track founder Jack Wimpey, who built the track in 1962, died at the age of 95 in February, passing the track along to his three elderly daughters whose lone connection to racing is working the track’s concession stand as children.

"They want it to stay a racetrack,” Cook said. “They want to continue Jack's legacy and it being a track.”

But Cook knows the $1.25 million pricetag — he’s certain that’s far above market value — may mean racing could take a lengthy break, or never return.

“So it's just gonna set idle until somebody purchases it. Actually I've got two different people willing to buy it, but they're not going to pay double,” Cook said. “But we have actually checked with the local officials, the county commissioners and there's nothing saying we can't go build a new track. So there is some talk about that if something was to happen that (Tri-County) did go away.”

The emotions run deep for Cook at the track that was a sleepy, little-known oval — one race in the late 1990s was tabbed the “Nowhere 50” — until being reconfigured more than 20 years ago. Cook’s promotions raised its profile with his Tar Heel 50, events on his Schaeffer's Spring Nationals and Schaeffer's Southern Nationals, and in recent years the Castrol FloRacing Night in America.

“It's hard,” Cook said, thinking about writing the statement he posted Friday on the track website. “I’ve been over there 12 years and we've done a lot of amazing things that I never thought we'd ever see at Tri-County, from the (Castrol) races to just everything. All the weekly stuff we've done, too, the charities, the money that's been raised for different organizations, the Christian Academy school, just everything. It's just a good stable function in the community that needs to be there. We've kept it a dry facility, we haven't allowed alcohol or nothing. Parents could come by and drop their kids off and not worry about them.”

He’s grateful to his family and so many in the community that put their time, money and efforts into keeping the track operating during his promotional stint.

“The biggest part I hate about it — and it ain't really me because I got obviously plenty of stuff to do and I'm blessed, there’s two or three other tracks that's reached out to me wanting to help them and, and I'm going to do that, try to keep racing going as much as I can in our area — but the worst part about it is the local racers that don't race nowhere but there, and all those fans,” Cook said. “The first thing I think about is those 15 or 20 people that are there the minute the gates open at 4 p.m. That’s the part I hate the worst.

“Hopefully it sells soon and somebody will (own) it and we can go right back over there” and continue racing, Cook said.

9:37 a.m. | PRI tidbits

Series director Chris Stepan expects to release the Structural Buildings WISSOTA Challenge Series schedule today, a slate that includes the six consecutive nights of XR Northern Storm events capped by ABC Raceway’s WISSOTA-record $20,444-to-win event on Aug. 10 in Ashland, Wis. … Among other scheduling notes, the Ultimate Southeast tour announced 2024’s Head Memorial has been slated for May 18 at Senoia (Ga.) Raceway paying $5,454-to-win. … The Southern All Star schedule hasn’t been released, but the tour revealed it will make its first visit to Waycross (Ga.) Motor Speedway since 2014 with the May 17-18 Davy Woodward Memorial. The event will have $3,000- and $10,000-to-win events.

9 a.m. | Overton’s Lucas return?

Don’t rule out Brandon Overton returning to the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. Actually,  judging the Evans. Ga., native's words to DirtonDirt.com following Friday’s series banquet at Lucas Oil Stadium, the 32-year-old’s idealistic plans are to return on the tour.

Why? For starters, the way he lost out on the top-four bid to compete for a series title — power steering issues during the semifinal cutoff race, the Pittsburgher — is gnawing at him.

“Yeah, the competitiveness out of me wants to do that,” Overton said. “To do it, though, you have to have some more help. Our team is solely based off my buddies around my house and my car owner. We have to get some big sponsors to help pick it up, for it to make sense to run, you know what I mean? If we can get that, it’s easy when you have enough money.

“It makes it way less stressful. When you’re racing on a budget still and watching every dime and penny, this is not the right thing to do. Or for me, it isn’t. I’m sure we’ll come back. I’m sure we’ll do it again. We just need to get our stuff right.”

Overton, numbers-wise both in the way of statistics and money earned took a considerable step back in 2023. He went the final seven months of the season — Lucas Oil Series or not — without a full-field feature victory. His last full-field victory remains April 22’s $50,000 Alabama Gang 100 at Talladega Short Track.

To that point, there was no sign of Overton slowing down, having won five times over a 16-race stretch. But as the season slogged onward, it became more apparent to Overton what he and his Well’s Motorsports team needs to find greater competitiveness on the road.

“They put so much money up, we were stupid not to do it, you know what I mean?” Overton said. “Hey, we did it. We have a little better idea. The more this grows, the more we grow. As I said, if this all makes sense, we’ll come back. If not, we’ll do what’s best for us.”

Overton agrees that some people have this notion about him that he only likes racing regionally — “The tour is fine. It’s not that,” he said — and his struggles have more to do with pacing and acclimating to the road life in and of itself.

“We’re set up a bit different,” Overton said. “You have to set yourself up to be able to do this. We’re not right now. But to set it up right, you need more money. At the end of the day, you need more money. If we get that, we’ll do it.”

At this time last year, Overton wouldn’t have guessed he’d be standing inside the large venue of Lucas Oil Stadium, preparing a speech at the Lucas Oil Series banquet and recollecting on a touring run (“No, no,” Overton emphasized). As he envisions what 2024 could like, he can’t get the shortcomings of this year out of his mind and simply return to his stomping grounds down in the Southeast without trying for an encore on tour.

“Like I said, we really want to do better than we did,” Overton said. “But we’ll take it. I know it ain’t going to be easy all the time. We just have to go back to work and get our cars fast. Who knows if we’ll at least be good again. If we feel comfortable, we might do it. If not, we’ll go where we know we’re good.

“We’re just building cars. We have to get all our inventory stocked back up. We have all our motors from Clements. We’re trying to get all our stuff for Speedweeks and see what happens like we always do.”

8:35 a.m. | The homestretch

Good morning, Indianapolis and those following along with our continued PRI coverage. The third and final day of the trade show is officially underway, and while Saturday’s typically the slowest news day of the three, it’s usually the busiest among attendees. 

We’ll start off with a few holdover interviews from Friday afternoon and proceed with more notes from the show floor once Saturday's foot traffic picks up. While today’s live blogging gains its bearings, be sure to read our features on Scott Bloomquist putting surgery on hold to plot 2024 plans as well as the adjusted Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series playoff format.

Kyle McFadden is also planning in-depth stories on Cody Overton bound for the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series with Dave Stein’s Tri Star Engines and Transmissions team and how Steve Francis has taken the WoO tour to new, expanded heights.

Editor's note: Reporting by DirtonDirt.com staffer Kyle McFadden along with other DirtonDirt.com contributors and staffers (some credited specifically); remote assistance from staffers Todd Turner, Kevin Kovac and Aaron Clay.

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