The Race & Performance Expo is a unique event put on by the team at Winner’s Circle Speed & Performance each year just outside of Chicago. This trade show is open-to-the-public and that allows enthusiasts to get some great face-time with the best manufacturers in the aftermarket. The crowds were huge again this year for a good reason: the Race & Performance Expo has something for everyone.
According to Winner’s Circles’ Jim Bingham, the move to the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center location last year has made a huge impact on the show and allowed them to grow it even more. “This new venue at the Renaissance Convention center here in Schaumburg is working out great. This is our 10th annual show and it has been one of the most successful ever with very good numbers at the gate. We actually had to open 10 minutes early on Saturday because there were just too many people in the lobby.”
Tons of people filled the lobby each day before the show started.
This event has a performance racing family atmosphere that really puts the emphasis on the hardcore performance enthusiast. It is geared towards the consumer and racer so they’re able to come to this show and get some valuable exposure to the factory representatives, learn about new products, and have the ability to purchase items that they might not get to at bigger trade shows.
The growth of the Expo was obvious as each day with the floor traffic being very brisk. Every booth at the show saw a large number of visitors and had the opportunity to answer lots of questions from potential customers. “It has was a great show for sure, we have really felt it behind the counter at our booth with the number of customers we were able to help, and the amount of product we were selling,” Bingham says.
Rich Mahoney brought out his hockey-inspired 1952 Ford F-6 known as “Rusted Metal”. The truck has a wild look to it, and features a ton of details that require a second or third look to catch.
The larger convention center allowed for the Race & Performance Expo to pack the 100,000 square foot floor space with tons of merchants, with a huge variety of vendors selling everything from electronics to engines and even turn-key racecars. There were also multiple race tracks and sanctioning bodies in attendance displaying what they had to offer and what big plans they had for the coming racing season.
The Midwest Council of Sports Car Clubs sanctioning body was at the Expo talking about their driving school, autocross, and wheel to wheel offerings for 2017.
Since Race & Performance Expo is open to the public, it allows all of the vendors an opportunity to really engage with the end users of their products and to really get a pulse for what’s going on in the industry. This level of interaction is what makes the show so popular with the vendors and attendees alike.
The show cars that were inside the convention center were all top-notch. You could find muscle cars, hot rods, and racecars all on display.
“The show overall just really seems to appeal to a wide audience. The attendees get to see old friends and like the format of the show. There’s a certain level of excitement they have coming to the Expo and they can gain some good knowledge about the products they’re about to purchase. This event gives the manufacturers and exhibitors a great chance to talk to the end user directly. and that’s huge,” Bingham says.
Mark Cryer brought out his nine-second Smart Car to show off at the Expo. The car was surrounded by people all weekend and they were trying to find the 555 cubic-inch big block under the hood.
Not one to just sit back and wait, Bingham is already thinking about what he can do for the 2018 show to make it even better. “We will take a look at everything we did this year to see what worked and what didn’t work. The plan is to take that information to make the next show bigger, better, and add some twists that everyone will love.”
Craig Montegna’s booth at the Swap Meet offered an interesting mixture of items. You could find everything from vintage magazines and photos, to wall art and emblems. Montegna said that everything in his booth had a story behind it and there’s no way he could tell them all in just one day.
A huge draw for many of those in attendance was the swap meet portion of the Race and Performance Expo. There was a constant flow of foot traffic through this area of the convention center as gearheads were treated to a cornucopia of go-fast parts. The vendors in this section used every square inch of their space to pack it with all kinds of interesting items. You could find everything from helpful garage tools, power-adders, and even complete race engines for sale.
The Chicago Region of the SCCA had their booth packed with cars. They were letting those at the show know about their activities in 2017 including autocross, track days, and wheel-to-wheel racing events.
Besides all the mechanical eye-candy, the Race & Performance Expo provided fans an opportunity to meet and get autographs from different personalities in the automotive world. Drag racers like Kevin Lawrence, Mark Horvath, Dale Creasy Jr, TJ Zizzo, and many others were at the event signing autographs and talking with fans. Joe Zolper from the hit TV show Garage Squad was also in attendance taking pictures with fans and telling some great stories.
The dirt oval at Route 66 Raceway will be getting some use in 2017. The facility has added three feet of new dirt, and went from 1/2-mile to a 3/8-mile track. The World Of Outlaws will be making stops to race there, along with some late model racing during the season.
One of the biggest highlights of the event is the Hot Rodder’s Of Tomorrow Engine Challenge competition that goes on during the Expo. High school students from all over the region are locked in a build-off battle that teaches them how to work as a team. During the event, they’re tasked with tearing down a small-block Chevrolet engine and putting it back together while being timed and judged on their accuracy.
According to Rodney Bingham, President of the Hot Rodder’s Of Tomorrow Foundation, there’s a lot on the line for the students in this competition.
“This is a regional qualifier and our first event of 2017. These teams are fighting against the clock to get below 33 minutes to qualify to get a chance to participate at one of the final events. They get a chance to go to the SEMA and PRI shows to compete at the end of the year. There are over $4.8 million dollars in scholarship opportunities available each year from five different colleges. The winning team at the end of the year will get a nice prize for the effortsl each student on the team gets a $10,000 scholarship to either UTI, OTC, UNOH, SAM Tech, or WyoTech.”
There were a total of 14 schools with 30 different teams at the event that tried their best to beat the 33-minute clock. The McLeod Racing team from Fremd High School came in first place with a time of 19 minutes, 54 seconds; the Howards Cams team from Lakeshore High School came in second with a time of 20 minutes, six seconds; and third place went to the Fragola team from Fremd High School with a time of 20 minutes, 41 seconds.
Cordova International Raceway was at the show with their new 2017 schedule that includes multiple street car shootout events for racers of all levels. They were also promoting the World Series Of Drag Racing that will be coming back home to the venue for 2017.
Another the highlights at the 2017 Race & Performance Expo was the Hot Rodder’s of Tomorrow Jr. Dragster Challenge. This new program is much like the competition for the high school students but is designed for younger kids. Each team is made up of two people — one person on the team needs to be between the ages of five and 18, and they can partner with a parent or another racer. Their goal is to take a Briggs & Stratton engine, fully disassemble it, and then reassemble it following general procedures.
Ryan Gortey has been the driving force behind this program and sees the value in working with the younger kids. “It’s a blast to educate and work with the younger generation with all of the excitement they have. Getting them off the electronic device and putting a wrench in their hand is very important. These kids are the future and we need to invest in them for sure to keep the sport alive.”
One of the cars on display that was drawing a lot of double-takes was this 1970 Plymouth Barracuda built by Schwartz Performance. This car has been converted to be right-hand-drive for a customer in India. Since Chrysler never produced this car in a RHD format Schwartz had to do some heavy modifications to get everything to work inside the car. It’s packing some serious power under the hood with an 805 horsepower Gen III Hemi.
Adding to the value the Expo provides are the great seminars that attendees can participate in. These classes are free with paid admission to the show and are hosted by some of the biggest companies in the industry. These seminars are very intimate and allow those who attend an opportunity to ask questions on each topic being discussed. There were a wide variety of topics covered in the seminars including motorsports marketing, how to pick the right transmission, tire information, and many others.
One of the most popular seminars was “Airflow, Cams, and What Makes Horsepower”, put on by Dave Hughes of Hughes Engines. “I like giving the seminars and talking with the racers each year. It gives me a chance to give some good information directly to them in this type of environment. Being able to answer questions on these topics in person helps to give us more credibility as a company, and make sure the customer is getting what they need,” Hughes explains.
A neat new product we found at the Expo was Altronics Power Quest touch-screen switch panel. It’s a fully touch screen panel that can replace the rocker-style switch panel inside your car. The unit is completely programmable and allows you to set what turns on when you hit the start button.
The Race & Performance Expo is a fantastic opportunity for those in the racing community to get together and celebrate their passion. This event put on by the Winner’s Circle Performance team has something for everyone no matter what they race or drive. Make sure you keep open dates on your calendar for the 2018 edition and make your way to the Renaissance Schaumburg, because you won’t want to miss anything the Race & Performance Expo has to offer!