Each year, the team at Winner’s Circle Speed & Performance, who host the Race & Performance Expo in the suburbs of Chicago, work to make its open-to-the-public trade show bigger and better than the one before it. And each year, they succeed at that endeavor. But when they touted the 2016 edition as the biggest one yet, they meant it.
The Race & Performance Expo had called St. Charles, Illinois home for eight years, but following last year’s show, Winner’s Circles’ Jim Bingham was informed that half of its convention space was slated for demolition, which would force the show to downsize considerably. Bingham, of course, had a grand vision to make the show bigger, not smaller, and so the difficult, but necessary decision, was made to pack their bags and move the show a few miles to the north, to the spectacular Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel & Convention Center in the city of Schaumburg.
The Renaissance boasts a nearly 100,000 square-foot, pillar-less event space, which allowed the Race & Performance Expo to not only place it’s previously partitioned show all under one roof, but also to expand the number of vendors, and the space allowed to each of those vendors. According to Bingham, some 200 exhibitors were a part of this year’s show, and there’s room to add even more in the years to come.
“The show was fantastic. You couldn’t ask for a better turnout and a better location,” said Bingham. “I was really nervous and concerned about whether or not we’d bring a crowd, and boy, did we ever bring a crowd. When you move a show like this, you have concerns about whether people will follow you, and they definitely have — they completely filled the parking lot of the convention center and hotel.”
Bingham tells us the 2016 show, despite his concerns — could he fill the convention space, would the crowds match what was promised to the vendors — was “exactly what he wanted” for the Race & Performance Expo. “It’s worked out great, and we’re already working on the 2017 show,” he says.
This year’s show featured 50 additional exhibitors with more booth space to go around, and also afforded Bingham and his team the ability to bring in an all-new swap meet area, which was arguably the most popular segment of this year’s Expo. “The swap meet is something that customers really want. Back before we started this show it was run by another entity, and one of the things they did was a swap meet, so we were constantly being asked by attendees to have one, and with the increased space, we were able to do that this year. We’re happy with it, and it does bring out quite the crowd.”
The swap meet contained a little bit of everything for everyone, from complete, rolling race cars and ready-to-run engines, to parts, after equipment, tires, wheels, clothing, and anything else racing-related you can imagine.
While the landscape has changed, many of the popular attractions that showgoers have come to expect of the Race & Performance were back this year. Famed hot rodder Vic Edelbrock, the man behind performance automotive giant Edelbrock, and a close friend of the show, was on hand to sign autographs and shake some hands. On Saturday afternoon, a host of Chicago-area drag racers, including Dale Creasy Jr., John Lawson, T.J. Rizzo, and Tom Motry were also in the house to sign autographs. Reigning NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown also was spotted taking in the Expo.
One of the staples of the Expo year in and year out is the Hot Rodder’s of Tomorrow Engine Challenge, which pits teams of high school automotive teams in a race against the clock, and one another, to tear down and rebuild a small-block Chevrolet engine. The Hot Rodders, which is organized by Bingham and Winner’s Circle Speed, is a nationwide, year-long event, with the Expo serving as one of the qualifying events for the finale at the PRI Show in Indianapolis in December.
This year, the Motive Gear team from Belvedere North High School claimed the crown with a time of 23 minutes, 29 seconds, with Fremd High School’s Taylor Cable team second at 25 minutes, 13 seconds, and Joliet Central High School’s team Firestone third at 26 minutes, 10 seconds. In all, 30 teams from 15 different schools participated over the course of two days, drawing huge crowds every time the whistle blew and the teams frantically began ripping apart the engines in what could only be described as controlled chaos.
Just steps outside the convention hall, attendees, with the cost of admission, were able to take in another traditional part of the Expo — a series of seminars hosted by industry experts. As speakers have shared with us in the past, the Expo seminars present them with a valuable and unique opportunity to sit down with their customers, face-to-face, deliver educational and informative material and concepts, and address their questions in a low-key environment.
Dave Hughes of Hughes Engines hosts one of the more popular seminars each year, this time delivering a keynote on ‘Horsepower … and how to get more of it.,’ touching on camshafts, and a range of other topics. Hughes noted the value of the face-time with his customers, saying that “it’s invaluable to us. We don’t have anything for sale, we’re selling our services. So people come to these shows to talk to us — they want to know if we’re a real company. We’ve been these seminars for years, and I love to get a lot of feedback and questions from the audience.”
The Winner’s Circle team is already hard at working preparing for the 2017 Race & Performance Expo, which is slated for February 25-26 at the Renaissance Schaumburg. Bingham promises that all of the popular attractions will return, while he and his team work to bring in more vendors, industry personalities, and entertainment. Mark your calendars!