Mike Magda: PRI-IMIS Merger and Talking Engines with Linda Vaughn

It took 12 years for the IRL and CART to unify — which returns the core of the sport to Indianapolis and hopefully restores some semblance of sanity to open-wheel racing in America.

Thankfully, it took PRI and IMIS only a third of the time to realize that their type of competition is not good for the sport or marketplace. The Performance Racing Industry (PRI) trade show has merged with the International Motorsports Industry Show (IMIS), and next year a single exposition will be held in the Indiana Convention Center from December 12-14. That means that PRI will no longer be held in Orlando, Florida, a location that spurred the emergence of IMIS.

“We formed IMIS in 2009 to bring a hardcore racing tradeshow back to Indianapolis,” IMIS co-founder Chris Paulsen said in a news release last month. 

Credit for unifying the racing-parts landscape has to go to the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) board of directors. Earlier this year, SEMA acquired PRI as the latter’s owner, Steve Lewis, turns to supporting son Michael’s promising racing career in Europe. 

SEMA (center) started out as a trade organization for speed shops, then expanded to serve multiple automotive aftermarket categories. The PRI (left) and IMIS shows focus solely on racers.

Ironically, Lewis saw an opportunity to focus on “hardcore” racing parts 25 years ago when he formed PRI. At the time, SEMA, which originally was formed as the Speed Equipment Manufacturing Association, was expanding its interests to seat covers, roof racks, radar detectors, air fresheners and all other customizing and personalizing parts offered for the auto consumer. SEMA also initiated lobbying efforts on behalf of auto enthusiasts and hobbyists and evolved into the go-to advocate for the automotive aftermarket. When PRI moved from Indianapolis to Orlando in 2005, some in the racing community felt abandoned, prompting Paulsen and partner Jeff Stoops to launch IMIS.

Many of SEMA’s members also exhibit at PRI and IMIS. Even the simplest of surveys reveal that millions of dollars were spent attending multiple shows. SEMA’s main objective is to promote its members’ businesses, and certainly any move that can save money for additional product development will benefit the entire industry.

Helping the Industry Succeed

“This consolidation is all about helping the racing industry to succeed,” Chris Kersting, SEMA president and CEO said at the time of the merger. “Unifying the racing industry’s trade shows makes it more affordable for all to participate.”

While competition in the marketplace is needed — and that’s what a free-market society and capitalism is all about — there are times when business and organization rivalries hurt if not destroy the intended markets. The CART-IRL clash of high-powered egos led to CART filing for bankruptcy and IRL nearly imploding before the unification — now called IndyCar — struggles to return some of the previous luster to the Indy 500 and top-tier open-wheel racing in the U.S. 

The first time I smelled nitro was at Paradise Dragstrip in Calhoun, Gerogia. It burned my eyes but the thrill of hearing a top fuel car fire up and be standing next to it was earth shattering.
      — Linda Vaughn

That history lesson likely helped Grand Am and ALMS settle up recently, so the U.S. will have a unified premium road-racing series. A new name and marketing direction is yet to be announced, but at least the racing community will have fewer distractions and possibly more opportunities for racers and certainly engine builders. Ever since Tony George caved under to manufacturer pressure and allowed sealed-engine lease programs in the IRL, independent engine builders have been left in the cold in IndyCar racing. But NASCAR runs Grand Am, and that series has a vibrant and competitive engine formula with brands like Ford, Chevy, Porsche, Infiniti, Lexus, Honda and even Pontiac eligible to compete in the Daytona Prototype class. 

By now the racing industry should know the pitfalls of competing sanctioning bodies on a national scale. Import drag racing showed considerable promise in the ‘90s, but the sport’s emerging stars were spread out over feuding organizations, and a focused fan base was never established. Some racing disciplines, however, have carved out competing sanctioning bodies without too much turmoil. ARCA and NASCAR can share tracks on the same weekend without a problem, and different off-road racing groups can spread out their schedules to minimize conflict. Problems seem to occur only when pompous egos, isolationist convictions and ‘60s attitudes toward technology consume a sanctioning body’s leadership. As long as SEMA continues to promote the racers’ interests as much as it helps the hobbyist and other aftermarket manufacturers, then the unified racing show should be beneficial to all.

The Queen of Motorsports Reveals Her Favorite Engine

One of the common denominators at SEMA and PRI is the queen of motorsports, Linda Vaughn. With razor-sharp memory and access to any garage, she’s certainly seen her share of engines since she attended her first drag race in the early ‘60s. So it’s only natural to ask her, “What’s your favorite engine?”

“My favorite engine is the one that’s out in my garage right now,” she says.

Linda Vaughn photos courtesy of the 1320 Project at www.quartermilefoundation.org

Linda’s car, of course, is a Hurst Olds powered by the legendary 455ci big-block.

“I did write a high school term paper on the ’57 Chevy, though. My boyfriend back then drove one. I watched him rebuild the engine and put in a Duntov cam. I read everything I could on Duntov. I fell in love in Zora and his wife, Effie. By the time I met him I knew his entire career.

“That was my first love but I married the 455 Olds,” continues Linda. “George Hurst was sheer horsepower and he put 455s in all those cars. Mine is the last car George gave me in 1975.”

Ask Linda to talk about horsepower, and she quickly obliges.

“The first time I smelled nitro was at Paradise Dragstrip in Calhoun, Gerogia. It burned my eyes but the thrill of hearing a top-fuel car fire up and be standing next to it was earth shattering. What can I say, I grew up with horsepower and rock ‘n roll.

And her favorite engine builders?

“Junior Johnson. He told me it ain’t cheating unless you get caught. All the drivers that Ed Pink had were my heroes. What a classy man and smart builder and hard worker. I’ve seen him at the track at daylight, stay after dark and never eat. Grumpy (Bill Jenkins) was an engineering genious. Ray Nichols, the unsung hero for Pontiac. Anyone who knows anything about engines knows where I’m coming from. The most underrated engine builder is probably Maurice Petty.”

And why aren’t there more female engine builders or tuners?

“Allison Lee (wife of Jim Lee and crew member for the Great Expectations top fuel dragster) was a great mechanic,” emphasizes Linda. “She was the first woman I saw put a camshaft in. I also saw Pam Hardy (Jungle Pam) work on engines.”

And tell us just one engine secret?

“I had a lot of secrets but I always kept them to myself. I could go into a Ford garage, right into a Chevy garage and right into the Petty’s,” she boasts. “I was always neutral, just like a Hurst shifter.”

About the author

Mike Magda

Mike Magda is a veteran automotive writer with credits in publications such as Racecar Engineering, Hot Rod, Engine Technology International, Motor Trend, Automobile, Automotive Testing Technology and Professional Motorsport World. He was the editor of four national automotive magazines, including Chevy High Performance, and has authored hundreds of automotive technical briefings. In covering nearly every type of motorsport, Mike has collaborated with many of racing's top engine builders and factory engineers.
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