PRI Trade Show
PRI Friday: Tidbits on Indy's trade show floor
By Todd Turner and Alli CollisDirtonDirt.com
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 12) — The Indiana Convention Center doors opened Friday for the second of three days at the 27th annual Performance Racing Industry Trade Show, where 40,000 attendees are expected to check out 1,100 companies, including many with a Dirt Late Model focus. Friday's blog-style updates (complete PRI coverage):
4:40 p.m. | End of Day Two
With the trade show floor closing at 5 p.m., Friday's event is winding down. We'll be back tomorrow with more updates. The doors open at 9 a.m. and the last day of the three-day show wraps up at 4 p.m. Look for more tech coverage from the DirtonDirt.com video crew.
4:29 p.m. | Gustin preparing for Arizona
Ryan Gustin of Marshalltown, Iowa, is gearing up for a trip to Arizona next month. He’ll join the likes of Jimmy Owens, Billy Moyer and Jimmy Mars at USA Raceway in Tucson for the ninth annual Wild West Shootout on Jan. 10-18.
“Hopefully it goes as good as it did last year,” Gustin said. "Go out there and have some fun and hopefully run good. They said there’s going to be some good cars out there this year, so it will probably be a little tougher. But we’ll see what we can do.”
The former modified standout scored a $10,000 triumph at Tucson earlier this year in the Winter Extreme finale. He hopes his good fortune continues in 2015.
“We got a win and I think we run a third or a second, something like that,” Gustin said. "We was doing pretty good out there. Hopefully we can do it again.”
Aside from his Wild West Shootout plans, the rest of the 2015 season remains up in the air for Gustin, who ended 2014 with 10 victories.
“We haven’t really set a schedule yet for what we’re going to do,” Gustin said. "We’re going to sit down when we get back and go from there.”
3:45 p.m. | Lucrative season for Hines
As a local racer who competed less two dozen times in 2014, Jeremy Hines of Seymour, Ind., couldn’t have dreamed up a better season.
“We had a great year,” Hines said while standing at the Landrum Performance Springs booth. “We had 10 wins (overall) and a lot of seconds. Actually, I only finished (a race) worse than second once this year.”
Hines, 37, was especially strong at his hometrack, Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway, where he roared to his second Super Late Model championship in three years on the strength of six feature wins and three runner-up finishes. It was a lucrative title, too, worth $10,000 in cash and prizes thanks to an attractive program put together by the management of the quarter-mile oval.
“We haven’t had our banquet yet,” Hines said, “but we got a new MasterSbilt (chassis) and (various awards from) Willy’s carburetor, BSB birdcages, Landrum springs, Impact suit … it all goes a long way for a local guy like us.”
With a new car being assembled and his engine program strong, Hines is ready to branch out in 2015 — although the booty being offered at Brownstown is making it tough to leave his backyard.
“Rumor has it that Brownstown gonna be even bigger and better next year,” Hines said of the potential championship prize for ’15. “If it’s anything that resembles this year, we’re probably gonna stay home (on Saturday nights) — plus, it’s 10 miles down the road.
“But Kentucky and Illinois, we’ll try to hit those $4,000, $5,000 an $6,000 shows out there. We’re gonna try to get down the road a little bit next year.”
Hines would certainly like to challenge himself by testing his talents versus top drivers from surrounding states.
“I go down to Kentucky and race against Michael Chilton and Dustin Linville and the Wells boys, and it’s hard,” Hines said. “It’s just like it is for them to come to Brownstown — it’s hard for them to beat me, and it’s hard for me to beat them down there. It’s a learning experience, learning the different shocks and springs for different tracks.”
3:37 p.m. | Solid season in Michigan
Although a busy work schedule kept him racing primarily in his home state, a chassis switch helped Ryan VanderVeen of Six Lakes, Mich., capture a career-high 10 victories in 2014. He’s hoping to continue that hot stretch while ranging out a bit more in 2015, including hitting Late Models events at Ohio’s prestigious Eldora Speedway.
The 27-year-old VanderVeen’s family has long operated a NAPA Auto Parts store in Six Lakes, and in April 2013 expanded with a second store in nearby Edmore, a location that Ryan manages. That’s limited his racing somewhat after he spent 2009-’12 primarily following the Sunoco American Late Model Series in Michigan, Ohio and occasionally Illinois. Friday racing trips were limited to tracks where he could make it home to work Saturdays, but that’s easing somewhat.
“I’ve got enough help where I don’t have to be there seven days a week now,” said VanderVeen while visiting the Keyser Manufacturing booth at the PRI show.
VanderVeen was runner-up in ALMS points in 2012 (and in the top five for four consecutive seasons). His 2014 season was his first in a Pierce Race Car after a career-long run in a Larry Shaw Chassis. He’d run the Shaw cars, following the pattern of his uncle Troy for many years, but he found the Pierce a refreshing change.
His 10 victories came at three tracks and he won a stretch of six races over seven weeks at Crystal (Mich.) Motor Speedway, where he was worse than fourth just once in 12 starts. He also won at Tri-City Motor Speedway in Auburn, Mich., and Winston (Mo.) Speedway.
3:24 p.m. | Francis stays busy
There is no off season for Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky. Just a little over a month after the World of Outlaws season finale at the Dirt Track at Charlotte, Francis will travel to Australia to race over the holidays. He and wife Amanda leave Christmas night.
“I think I race every weekend this year except for maybe five,” said Francis, who finished fourth in Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points. “I like racing; I can’t say I don’t. We sit at home a couple days and I start getting bored and looking for something to do and driving Amanda nuts. I think she thinks I’m better off to race, too.”
The 2015 season will be much the same for Francis, who will once again follow the Lucas Oil tour in his third season with Clint Bowyer Racing.
“Clint’s giving us everything we need to race,” Francis said. “We’re going to have Barry Wright cars, (Lucas Oil champion) Don O’Neal as a teammate, Clements motors. Pretty much everything has stayed the same for next year. We’re going try to win that Lucas thing back-to-back for Clint Bowyer Racing.”
3:19 p.m. | McIntosh ready for 2015
The Maryville-Tenn.-based Blount Motorsports announced Thursday that 21-year-old Donald McIntosh of Dawsonville, Ga., will be its primary driver in 2015. McIntosh joined the team following Billy Ogle Jr.’s departure in September, and is looking forward to the upcoming season.
“We’re all really excited,” McIntosh said. “I’ve been working with Larry (Garner) and David Bryant for the last three months since the World 100 and it’s been pretty good. We’ve had some good runs and we’ve had some bad runs, but I’ve learned a lot as a driver. I think we’re all excited about it. We know with me, limited experience, there will be some bad runs, but I think it will be a lot of fun.”
McIntosh captured his first victory for BMS at Boyd’s Speedway on Nov. 22 in the Turkey Gobble 50. His only other win of the 2014 season came in a special event at Dixie Speedway in Woodstock, Ga.
“That was an awesome night,” McIntosh said of his Boyd’s victory. “The night before we didn’t end up making the show at Cleveland. We went out with the same attitude. I had a good qualifying run; we ended up getting second. The car was just phenomenal in the race.”
The youngster finished third in points on the Old Man’s Garage Spring Nationals tour last season, and fifth in the Schaeffer Oil Southern Nationals Series standings. He’ll compete on both tours in 2015.
“We’d love to win every race we go to,” McIntosh said. “That’s the plan. We’ve got more of a level head on that. We’re going to do our best to win the Spring Nationals.”
2:56 p.m. | Wells back to Bloomquist
Hazard, Ky.’s Eric Wells closed the 2014 season with a sixth-place finish in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series points standings. He plans to kick off the 2015 season with the WoO at Georgia-Florida Speedweeks.
“We’re going to go through Florida running the Outlaws,” Wells said Friday as he visited the Hyperco booth. “We plan to run it up through Tyler County and see where we’re at in points and then make a decision after that.”
Wells captured the 2013 World of Outlaws Rookie of the Year title. After piloting a Rocket Chassis last season, he’ll return to Bloomquist Race Car next year.
“It was good,” Wells said of his 2014 season. “We’re going to be back in Bloomquist cars next year, with the help we’ve got. I’m excited for next year. We hope to improve on the year and get some wins. Everything’s pretty much the same for us ... just hope to improve our race finishes.”
While the 2015 season is quickly approaching, Wells is enjoying some time at home with his family. He and fiancée Jarron welcomed their second child, daughter Lennox, on Nov. 13.
“I need to spend a little more time home with them,” Wells said. “Time flies and it won’t be long and they’ll be grown. I need to enjoy their youth while I can.”
2:02 p.m. | Odds and ends
Former UMP DIRTcar Summernationals champion Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., is considering a national tour run in 2015. If he leaves East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla., in the top five in Lucas Oil Series standings, he’ll give the series a shot, he said at PRI. … The Southern All Stars released a tentative 19-race schedule that opens with the East Alabama Motor Speedway’s Bama Bash, which returns to series sanctioning for the first time since 2003 (when the race was held at Green Valley). See DirtWire for more details. … Austin Rettig of Sikeston, Mo., plans to start the season chasing the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Rookie of the Year title; the team plans to make a decision following Georgia-Florida Speedweeks.
12:56 p.m. | Indiana driver’s plans
Cody Mahoney of Hanover, Ind., is primed for what he hopes is the first year of the rest of his racing life in 2015.
After entering a handful of open-competition Dirt Late Model events in 2014 while focusing on Crate Late Model action with team owner Bryan Bowman of Seymour, Ind., Mahoney, 28, plans to step up his Super Late Model participation significantly during the coming season. The highlight of his schedule is a stab at the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals, which he will attempt to follow for the first time in Bowman’s MasterSbilt equipment.
“We’re gonna try to do the whole Summernationals deal if we can,” said Mahoney, who won seven Crate Late Model features in the Hoosier State in 2014 and gained attention with an impressive seventh-place finish in a World 100 preliminary feature at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. “I’m pretty eager to get after just to see what it takes to actually do the whole thing. I’ve done some of it, but I haven’t got to do the whole thing so I’m pretty excited about.
“Hopefully we can stick with it and keep the thing together where we can run that series. I think that would be fun.”
Mahoney has dabbled in Dirt Late Model competition since 2002, but from 2010-2013 the bulk of his racetrack time came in his full-time position working as the crew chief for the MasterSbilt house car driven by Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind. He departed MasterSbilt in 2014 to take a job preparing race cars and driving for Bowman, who in ’15 will field two Super Late Models for Mahoney as well as Crate Late Models for his own son Adam.
“All I do is keep the race cars going and drive the race cars for him.,” Mahoney said of his dual role with Bowman’s team while standing in the Hooser Racing Tires booth. “We’ve got (crew member) Mike Price over there helping us out quite a bit and that makes it easy on me because we’ve got somebody we can rely on. I’m really enjoying it.”
11:45 p.m. | Catching up with Tilley
Chris Tilley, who operates CT Promotions and works closely with Ray Cook-promoted tours, mentioned several tidbits in a visit on the trade show floor. … His Ironman Speedweek, four races set for Labor Day weekend, will get title sponsorship from Revelution Race Cars. … The Tri-County Racetrack event on the Schaeffer Oil Southern Nationals tour will mark the tour’s 100th event (barring no rainouts). … Cook’s Southern Nationals Bonus Series events will begin March 20-21 with a pair of $4,000-to-win events at Cleveland (Tenn.) Speedway and Boyd’s Speedway in Ringgold, Ga. (The Southern All Stars also have that Boyd's race on the SAS schedule, so that might be up in the air). … Tilley also noted some news that had slipped past us at DirtonDirt.com: Cook and Joe Denby have partnered to operate American Racer South, headquartered in Tullahoma, Tenn. Allen Braswell is handling day-to-day operations. Jeff Treece previously operated American Racer South.
11:36 a.m. | Feger's chassis plans
After several seasons with Pierce Race Cars, Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., evolved his most recent Pierce car into what he calls a Hustler Chassis in 2014, and he’s made plans to began building his own race cars, perhaps selling them on a limited basis.
But the former UMP DIRTcar Summernationals champion said this morning that a Friday lunch meeting might change those plans. He wouldn’t reveal details, but hinted that the meeting might begin a partnership that results in Feger building cars for an existing chassis dealer (with, perhaps, “by Hustler” tagged onto the chassis name).
No matter which way Feger goes, he’s going to need more space. His small shop allows room only for one race car and a chassis jig, and he’s hoping to build a larger, 4,800-square-foot shop on property next to his current shop. We’ll check back with Feger for more details.
11:26 a.m. | Golden Isles improvements
With new owner Johnny Langdale handing promoter Darryl Courson the keys at Golden Isles Speedway with wide latitude to improve the track, Courson isn’t hesitating as the oval near Brunswick, Ga., prepares for Feb. 5-7 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series action.
• Last week Courson put 92 loads of clay on the track.
• This week crews are pouring concrete for new walls (the track will now have an entrance-exit in turn two, similar to Mississippi’s Magnolia Motor Speedway.
• Plans are in the work for a grassy infield where sponsors can be painted.
• Infield light standards have been move to the outside of the track.
• And a huge Pepsi can in the infield will double has a boost for his new sponsor and obscure infield electrical equipment
• And in the works for 2016 is more seating and VIP suites.
“It’s a good facility,” said Courson, whose first stint at the track came under previous owner Frankie Lloyd, “ but it’s going to be even better.”
The track has a busy season scheduled with a half-dozen $10,000-to-win events slated. After the Late Models invade for the Super Bowl of racing, Golden Isles will host big-block modifieds for the first time in mid-February (along with sprint cars), giving Courson major back-to-back winter racing weekends.
“I’ll be wore out after that,” Courson said, while dropping by the DirtonDirt.com booth.
11:19 a.m. | Firming up dates
While plenty of series and tracks have announced 2015 schedules, plenty more still need to secure their racing weekends for next season.
One track promoter planning to nail his schedule down next week — after making some final plans during the PRI Trade Show — is new Richmond (Ky.) Raceway promoter Larry Yantz, who will operate the central Kentucky oval with son Chad and daughter-in-law Sarah.
Foremost among scheduling at Richmond is the Butterball Wooldridge Memorial, a $10,000-to-win event that’s one of the longest continuously running dirt races in the Bluegrass State.
He’s considering July 11, but wondering if going head-to-head with NASCAR Sprint Cup action at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky., will be too much competition. And he's also looking at July 18 in case that’s a better fit. Either way, Yantz hopes to announce a schedule next week.
He’s also considering hyping what’s known as the “Butterball” race with qualifying events, providing drivers guaranteed starting spots. Details are still being worked out, but one thing Yantz considered was having a race the night of the Butterball among the season's previous feature winners with the winner earning a special starting spot.
11:11 a.m. | R.J.'s trade show strategy
Ronnie Johnson has seen it all during his four decades of racing, but there’s still plenty of things that catch the Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer’s eye when he visits the PRI Trade Show.
“That’s why I’m here — more than anything, just to try see what’s going on,” said Johnson, a two-time Dirt Track World Championship winner who these days focuses on lower-cost Crate and CT 525-engine racing with the NeSmith Chevrolete Dirt Late Model Series and Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series (he won both championships in 2014). “There’s all kinds of stuff here. During the summer we’re so busy racing that you can’t keep up with what’s going on, so it’s interesting to see what’s out there.”
Johnson, 57, joked that seeing so many booths filled with shiny, new, innovative racing equipment can be a bit demoralizing, however.
“Sometimes it’s not a good thing to come here,” said a smiling Johnson while looking at some bearings from Denver, N.C’s MicroBlue Racing (a product he wasn’t familiar with before). “I mean, there’s been times I’ve come to these shows and I’ve left and went back home thinking I might as well just shut the doors because there’s no way I’m gonna be able to race with all these guys if they’ve got all this stuff.”
The sheer size and magnitude of the PRI extravaganza also awes Johnson, who often finds it difficult to get through the hordes of people clogging the aisle ways.
“As everybody knows, and I’ve heard time and time again in the last couple of days, this thing is so big it’s impossible to see it all,” Johnsn said. “You come up here with good intentions, and you got a list and a plan, but you’re gonna get side-tracked. Especially for me — I saw guys yesterday that I haven’t seen in years and you want to stop and talk to ‘em.
“We’ve all got a story to tell from back in the day. Running into guys like Freddy Smith and Tommy Helfrich … I wouldn’t talk to Tommy Heltrich for anything unless I was going to his track (Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind.) and I saw him yesterday. I might have covered five percent of this floor yesterday … there’s no way to see it all.”
9:55 a.m. | Odds and ends
Although California driver Eric Jacobsen shut down his Tennessee-based team after losing funding for the operation through Soilfume Inc., team publicist Ryan Delph said he’s trying to put together a self-funded car to compete during Florida Speedweeks, working out of the shop of crew chief Greg Martin in east Tennessee. … Joe Moriarty of Phoenix, Ariz.-based Total Seal Piston Rings will be honored Friday evening in Indianapolis for a MPMC Hall of Fame reception of inductees. Moriarty’s son Joey is a frequent Dirt Late Model competitor in Arizona. … What are some of the questions everyone asks journalists at PRI? Among them is the status of the team former World 100 winner John Blankenship of Williamson, W.Va., who was a no-show at Thursday’s Lucas Oil Series banquet. Also many wonder whether Brian Birkhofer and Brady Smith, among two drivers who called it quits during 2014, will ever race again, or if they’ll climb back behind the wheel sooner or later.
9:43 a.m. | Litton to pick up pace
Four-time SUPR champion Rob Litton of Alexandria, La., plans to rejoin the tour full time in 2015 after missing some 2014 races during his first racing season as a father.
Rob and wife Heather’s son Colt turns 1 year old soon and Litton, 43, didn’t race quite as much as usual, although he still finished third in points on the Louisiana-based tour. He was touring the PRI show — his first-ever visit — with 37-year-old cousin Rick Duke Jr., who also competes in the Dirt Late Model division.
“It’ll be nice to get out of the house again,” said Litton, who hopes to run SUPR events along with special events at Thunder Valley Speedway in Glenmora, La., which is just a half-hour from his house. “We’re set to see what works out the best.”
7:51 a.m. | Odds and ends
Friday is often the busiest day at PRI, so DirtonDirt.com’s video crew will be on the lookout for more driver interviews. The doors open at 9 a.m. ... Driver Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind., announced a new partnership with former Shane McLoughlin car owner Tye Twarog, who will bolster Casebolt's program and bring him to more Ohio tracks like NAPA Wayne County Speedway, Midway Speedway and more. ... Check DirtonDirt.com's coverage index for interviews with Jimmy Owens, Bobby Pierce, Ray Cook, Kent Robinson, Gregg Satterlee, Timothy Culp, Randy Weaver, Bub McCool, Riley Hickman, Chad Simpson, Jake Redetzke, Scott Lewis, Justin Asplin, Jon Mitchell and Patrik Daniel. … Dan Shepherd of Denver, Colo., is expected to join fellow Colorado driver Scott Lewis in running the Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association tour next season. … Maryville, Tenn.-based Blount Motorsports named Donald McIntosh its permanent driver for the 2015 season; he’d made several starts for the team in the fall after the departure of Billy Ogle Jr.
7:43 | Chassis pioneer honored
Hall of Fame chassis builder C.J. Rayburn of Whiteland, Ind., was honored at Thursday’s Lucas Oil Series banquet with the Mike Swims Award of Excellence, the annual honor presented to someone who's gone above and beyond the call of duty in the racing industry to make a lasting impact on the lives of racers, crews, and fans.
In addressing the crowd, Rayburn reflected on how Rayburn Race Cars played a key role in the careers of the top five in series points: Don O’Neal (who drove the house car several years), Jimmy Owens, Scott Bloomquist, Steve Francis and Eddie Carrier Jr. And he hopes his creation can help more drivers in years to come. “I hope that we’re not finished yet,” he said.
Rayburn, who at 74 still makes the occasional racing start, threatened to make a start next Florida Speedways in February in Lucas Oil Series action at East Bay Raceway Park. He said he could hot lap, qualify, run a heat race, run a consolation race — then drawing a laugh from the crowd — “and I can go to the stands and watch a damn good race.”
7:38 a.m. | Lucas Oil banquet recap
A near standing-room-only crowd filled the gym at the Lucas Oil Estate in Carmel, Ind., for the postseason Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series banquet, where Don O’Neal was crowned with his first national title. … First-year crew chief Jeremy Justice was honored the tour’s Crew Chief of the Year award for his work with O’Neal. … Besides the Lucas Oil regulars, it was a star-studded affairs with other drivers on hand including Hall of Famer Billy Moyer, drag racing legend Bob Glidden (who joined his neighbor C.J. Rayburn, winner of the Mike Swims Award of Excellence), former NASCAR and fledgling dirt racer Jeremy Mayfield and more. … In his address, driver Steve Francis sent out get-well wishes to series chaplain Debbie Reed of Knoxville, Tenn., who suffered a stroke early in the week but was recovering well at the UT Medical Center.
7:31 a.m. | Trade show strategy
As the second day of the PRI trade show opens up, anyone who didn’t accomplish all they had hoped on Thursday should consider the comments on PRI strategy from Justin Asplin, a MARS DIRTcar Series regular from Birch Tree, Mo.
“We always try to get here Wednesday night so we can get out here early (on opening day), get in the show and hit the (booths of the) main people that help us out through the year,” said Asplin, who finished second in the 2014 MARS points standings. “It gets way too hectic real fast after the show opens, so if you can get everything done, see everybody you want to, by midday on Thursday, it allows me to go and look at new stuff that I don’t typically look for and see what else is out there.”
Of course, Asplin noted that it takes a healthy amount of tunnel vision for a driver to stay on point and make his appointed rounds of the expansive show.
In that vein, when Asplin’s friends always him how he was so efficient at PRI, he joked: “By not talking to you.”
Editor's note: Contributions from Kevin Kovac, Ben Shelton, Michael Rigsby, Webb Dillard and Derek Kessinger.