INDIANAPOLIS -- For many in the industry, the racing season has only been over for a couple of weeks. But that doesn't stop them from taking the opportunity to visit frigid Indianapolis to spend a couple more days with their brethren before the calendar turns to 2017.
Back in Indy for the third year after a Florida sojourn, the annual Performance Racing Industry show attracted thousands of industry insiders for three days of dealing, dining and debating the future direction of the sport. In 2014, the city of Indianapolis expanded its convention center in a successful effort to lure PRI back from Orlando, and the largest auto racing trade show in the world again had the facility bursting at the seams. The show's attendance record of 55,632, set in 2015, was expected to be easily surpassed this year.
There is so much happening at and around PRI that it's almost impossible to distill it into a single, cohesive story. So in the spirit of the late, great Chris Economaki, consider this an updated version of "From the Editor's Notebook ... "
Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi was back in town to see his likeness on the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy for the first time. The full-size trophy was unveiled at a ceremony open to the public at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, and Rossi will receive his own "Baby Borg" replica at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit in January.
Rossi joined Indianapolis media and VIPs for a reception and dinner at Mo's: A Place for Steak on Wednesday night, where he was joined by three-time Indy winner Bobby Unser and longtime radio/television "Voice of the 500" Paul Page. It is believed that "Uncle Bobby" worked hard to convince Rossi that it is actually OK for a driver to show a little personality every now and then.
Some 3,000 industry insiders attended PRI's traditional opening breakfast, where Dave Despain moderated a conversation with guest speakers Jeff Gordon and Rick Mears. Celebrities ranging from Linda Vaughn to Tony Stewart could be seen roaming the show floor.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles was the keynote speaker at the Race Track Business Conference, delivering a positive report on ticket sales for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. While acknowledging that a repeat of the sellout of reserved and general admission tickets that the track enjoyed in 2016 to mark the 100th race is unlikely, Boles said that ticket sales are trending ahead of the slow but steady growth in attendance the race experienced from 2010 to 2015, adding that another sellout of the Speedway's estimated 225,000 permanent seats is "an outside possibility."
Boles also confirmed that more than 50,000 people have visited the inaugural "Lights at the Brickyard," the first-time holiday entertainment extravaganza that allows fans to drive a 1.7-mile path through the IMS infield lit by more than 2 million lights, which includes portions of the road course and garage area. Boles said that more than 11,000 vehicles have made the $30-60 journey, averaging 5.5 customers per vehicle, and lining the IMS coffers by an estimated $400,000. "Lights at the Brickyard" runs through December 31.
One open seat for the 101st running was filled, with news released that Oriol Servia will drive Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's second Honda entry. Efforts are being made to secure more races for the 42-year-old Servia, whom RLL lead driver Graham Rahal calls "the ultimate teammate."
Chip Ganassi Racing announced that Max Chilton will return for a second full season in the team's No. 8 car, now in the Honda camp after an offseason switch from Chevrolet. Ganassi's planned first test for its new Honda cars at Sebring International Raceway was rained out, allowing four-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon to return to Indianapolis to attend the final day of PRI.
Lots of folks are scrambling to find the financing to run Indy, including an interesting effort fronted by Eddie Sachs Jr. The son of the popular driver of the same name who was killed on the first lap of the 1964 500 won't be driving, but he is trying to land a spot in the field for a driver from the traditional sprint car or midget ranks.
Mazda's Road to Indy, the modern-day ladder to Indy car racing, shared important news of its own with the introduction of a common chassis that can be utilized for US F2000 and Pro Mazda. By changing the engine and key body components between the two classes, the Road to Indy has found a way for aspiring open-wheel racers to keep costs down as they pursue the Indy car dream. The Tatuus USF-17 can be put on the track for less than $100,000 in F2000 trim, increasing to about $110,000 when the car is made available in Pro Mazda trim starting in 2018. The cost to update the rolling chassis from F2000 to Pro Mazda is about $45,000, a substantial savings over buying all new equipment.
Back on the traditional circle-track path, USAC revealed a couple of important safety initiatives for its Midget, Sprint Car and Silver Crown categories, including TracSafe -- warning lights linked to the timing and scoring system mounted to the dash and rear roll structure of cars to speed up the process of informing drivers of a caution. USAC also unveiled a roster of new clients it will sanction, including the Pirelli World Challenge sports car series and the Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship.
In drag racing news, Courtney Force and her family broke the news that her Chevrolet Funny car will be sponsored by Advance Auto Parts in 2017 and beyond. Pro Stock racers Erica Enders-Stevens and Jeg Coughlin Jr. will switch to a Camaro body, and Drag Illustrated revealed a "30 under 30" list of up-and-comers in the industry.