The sprawling Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois, a suburb of the city of Chicago, once again played host to the annual Race & Performance Expo, now in its seventh year, to thousands of racers and automotive enthusiasts over the weekend of February 22nd and 23rd. As they’ve done each and every year, the Expo’s promoters, led by Jim Bingham of Winners Circle Speed & Custom and a full cast of staff and volunteers, set out to make the show bigger and better than ever before with new attractions and a host of first-time exhibitors, and the midwest crowd responded with a near-capacity crowd that broke records for the show that also features the Circle Track Expo, the Car Builders Showcase, the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge, and much more.
According to Bingham, the Saturday crowd at the Expo was the largest in their history, and not ones to rest on their laurels, plans are already being drawn up to top it next February. “We tried some new things this year, and really pushed the event on social media, and it just took off.”
The Race & Performance Expo takes place under 60,000 square feet of exhibitor space, and the Pheasant Run’s Megacenter is the heart of it all, with more than 130 manufacturers, race tracks and racing organizations, chassis builders, and apparel companies displaying their latest and greatest products and vehicles. The vendor list for this year’s show was a virtual who’s-who of names in the automotive and racing industry, from Holley and Comp Cams to Strange Engineering, Jiffy-Tite, and MSD Performance to the NHRA, the NDRL, the Great Lakes Dragaway, Route 66 Raceway, and others.
Where the Expo stands out from the rest in the industry is that it caters to the grass roots racer, the end-user of the products that manufacturers take to market, by granting admission to the public to get a first-hand look at new products and meet and talk with some of the industry’s brightest minds. And this approach shines through, as not only is the public invited to attend, but they get the opportunity to sit down and learn the in’s and out’s of a host of products and technologies from the leaders in the marketplace though a full slate of seminars held at the MegaCenter.
These seminars, thirteen in total over the course of the two-day show, ran the gamut on topics geared to the end-user, from a look at throttle stops and playback tachs with Auto Meter and Dedenbear, to the science of selecting racing bearings with King Engine Bearings, to the latest in high performance gasket sealing with Fel-Pro and a start-to-finish, walk-through demonstration of Aeromotive’s Phantom fuel system. Each of the seminars were 40 to 45 minutes in length, and as always, were very well-attended.
“It’s really important to get out here and talk direct with the consumers, so we can let them know what our systems are capable of and how to use them, Holley’s Technical Training Manger, Tom Kise, shared with us. “The better educated the consumer is, the better experience they’re going to have and the more successful they’re going to be with the product. Getting 45 minutes here at this show in front of the end-user is key to helping them better understand the product. We want our customers to be satisfied, and these seminars and our factory-direct training courses are all a part of that.”
A new addition a year ago, the MegaCenter also hosts a number of truck and offroad-specific manufacturers for the four-wheel drive crowd, with such brands as Superchips, DeeZee, Weather Tech, and Truxedo showing off their wares.
As well, Miss Painless Performance, Veronica Jensen, was on hand to sign autographs, and several area radio stations, including 98.3 WCCQ and host Roy Gregory, who has broadcast from every Race & Performance Expo, along with Q Rock 100.7 and 1340 WJOL were all in the house taking the message to the airwaves.
Car Builder Showcase
The car Builders Showcase, another attraction added to the Expo just a year ago, takes place in the Resorts’ spectacular St. Charles Ballroom, with some of the most immaculate rods, custom, and restored racing machines in the country. This year’s edition was host to a whole new crop of show machines, including historic race cars, Pro Touring competition vehicles, and all-original classics. You could even get an up close and personal look at aftermarket muscle car and street rod chassis, components, and services from the Roadster Shop, Boss Hoss Cycles, Canal Auto Rebuilders, and others.
“The Car Builders Showcase was a huge hit for us last year, and there was no question it would be part of the show this year,” said Bingham. “We were able to not only get more cars in the Ballroom, but we teamed up with several additional car builders to bring in and be a part of the show.”
Circle Track Expo
Just a short shuttle ride — which is free of charge and runs every few minutes for the duration of the Expo — across the street is the 23,000 square foot DuPage Expo Center, the home of the Circle Track Expo and the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge. Catered to dirt and pavement circle track racers, this part of the Expo features a little bit of everything in oval racing. Whether you’re into sprint cars, stock cars, karting, or even remote-controlled oval track racing, the DuPage Expo Center has it.
Said Circle Track Expo organizer Glen Myers, “our goal each year is to be a venue where local circle tracks and manufacturers, along with the drivers, promoters, and fans, can all come together in one place and interact. And that opportunity is made available to them because we open our show up to the public.”
Despite the name, however, the Circle Track Expo is so much more, as road course ringers, racing boats, and monster trucks have been a part of the show over the course of the years, bringing together a very all-encompassing show for those that like to go in circles, turn left and right, jump cars, or power over wakes.
“We try to diversify the Circle Track Expo as much as possible, and we’ve brought go-karts and different racing associations in over the years, because it’s really all about racing,” said Myers.
Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge
With its finale traditionally held in front of hundreds of thousands of attendees at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge has gained national and even international noteriety for its efforts to nurture the future of the high performance industry, and the popular program has its roots right here at the Race & Performance Expo, as a vision of Winners Circle’s Jim Bingham and now headed up by his son, Rodney.
Said Rodney, “the Hot Rodders is an avenue for students to get involved with the high performance aftermarket industry. We’re exposing them to things they never would’ve done or seen, and they’re finding out through this program that there are all sorts of careers in this industry — not just in turning wrenches — that they didn’t even know existed.”
The Hot Rodders of Tomorrow is a hit attraction each year at the Expo, bringing together regional high school automotive programs to compete against the clock — and each other — for a chance at scholarships for advanced schooling in the automotive industry. The Expo is one of ten qualifying events to be held in 2014 for inclusion in the expanded championships, of which two will be held this year at the SEMA Show on November 4-7 and at the PRI Show in Indianapolis, December 11-13.
“The program is really growing, and we’ve added two more events to the schedule for this year, which is exciting,” Rodney told us. “We’ll be taking up to 12 teams each to Las Vegas and Indianapolis, and that’s been made possible by the support of SEMA and PRI to get more teams involved.”
The Belvidere North High School in Belvidere, Illinois, representing Team Hedman, was the overall winner of this year’s competition with a time of 23 minutes and 11 seconds to fully disassemble and re-assemble a performance engine under strict scrutiny and quality guidelines.
Before the 7th annual Race & Performance Expo even closed on Sunday evening in St. Charles, planning was already underway for the eighth edition next winter, as the Bingham’s and their tireless staff forge ahead to bring an even bigger and better show to their customers and area racers and enthusiasts. While you can expect the core of the show to remain — the Expo itself, the Circle Track Expo, the Car Builders Showcase, and the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow — to continue on, other attractions and promotions are planned to bring even more entertainment to those attending.
Manufacturers, car builders, and race tracks/series interested in learning more about exhibiting at or attending the 2015 Race & Performance Expo can learn more by visiting raceperformanceexpo.com.