After 15 impactful years at General Motors, Dr. Jamie Meyer changed hats a little over two months ago and took the helm of the PRI Trade Show. Steering an event of PRI’s scale would be a big task under any circumstances, but doing so in the midst of a global pandemic has escalated the challenge exponentially.
Meyer is confident that PRI can go ahead in December, but he sees a broader role for PRI to play in helping the broader industry navigate the pandemic.
RACER: You’re dealing with many moving targets and unknowns, but is there a role for PRI to help the industry navigate what we’re all going through?
DR JAMIE MEYER: That’s the longer-term vision, and that’s really why I took the position – the advocacy side of PRI. So, quote unquote, not just the trade show in December, but what can PRI do as a central leading advocacy group that brings racing and all the constituents together. There’s a huge opportunity there. And so, we have a PRI advisory committee. The chairman is Chris Douglas from Comp Cams and Tim Martin, the SEMA board chairman sits on that as well as James Lawrence, the Chair-elect. And that committee has really pushed for the advocacy side and supporting the industry, and what does our membership look like. Our immediate actions were to hire three experts on racetracks, set them up as PRI ambassadors and support them with our Washington D.C. governmental advocacy groups and lobbyists and lawyers, and give individual tracks the support they need to get back online.
And each track is different. Each local government is different. The relationship that the two have is different. So our ambassadors, who are Tom Deery from the World of Outlaws, Gene Bergstrom, who spent over 40 years in the NHRA, and then Frank Hawley, who has won multiple NHRA championships and has the Frank Hawley Drag School. It’s a great group of people, and those three ambassadors are going track to track, finding out what PRI can do, and then bringing in [people like] Christian Robinson, [who is responsible for] governmental affairs. And it may go to just helping educate the track on how to have a better relationship with their local government or it may be that they need help with marketing assets. But we’re setting up PRI for the long haul where we can help keep the facilities back up and running.
RACER: There are also other areas away from the tracks – grassroots racing organizations like the SCCA, for example – where PRI could have a role to play.
JM: I think the long-term goal for PRI is to be the place that brings all those organizations together. SCCA has a great membership; NHRA does as well, multiple circle track organizations around the country are either small or massive depending on their reach, but they’re not united in any capacity. The exception is in December when they all come to the PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis, and we’re looking to extend that. So, the peer advisory committee wants me to focus on the businesses first, because we have such a great relationship – we’ll have over 1000 of them that display every year at the PRI Trade Show. So we’ll, we’ll start that relationship and helping them and uniting them in one common goal. Christian Robinson says, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. And he apologizes because it’s such a Washington swampy saying, but it gives you pause, and you start realizing that if we don’t have a centralized voice that is just in the conversation and asking the right questions, racing could be in jeopardy because of that.
What’s the value proposition? That’s the challenge I have right now. It’s easy to say we’re going to stick up for the racing organization, but you think about the larger goal of that group and a true federation, if you will, that has local activists that can speak on behalf of the racing organization. So it might be a local SCCA club, but if the track, or drag strip, is having trouble with a local governmental official or community, can we help organize a discussion, and can we have racer turnout and racer support? And it’s amazing what an individual phone call from a concerned citizen or a concerned company can have on a politician, just to share that individual’s story. I don’t need to sell the readers of RACER magazine, but we need to think about the good that racetracks do in their communities, the economic impact, the cultural impact, the opportunity for young folks to be inspired, to get into engineering and science roles. And just having lobbyists and expert negotiators to come to the table on the racing community’s behalf, have that dialogue, present that case and win favors for the racing community… that’s how we want to make sure PRI’s position going forward.
RACER: Do you have anything specific in mind that you’re looking for in terms of early wins?
JM: I think PRI… the obvious reaction is, was what’s going on with the COVID crisis. Small wins for us right now are when states form motorsports, coalitions, like what we’ve helped orchestrate in Illinois. Instead of a venue being held to 10 or 20 people, you can open the eyes of a politician where racetracks aren’t grouped into bars, nightclubs, concert venues; you avoid that type of a situation. And you talk about an organized, socially-distanced, safety-equipment-engaged group of people that can have an event safely. And there may be limits to how many people can come into the stands, but the racers can still do their thing. And most importantly, the track can still make enough money to keep the doors open, can still pay its employees and be of high value to its community. So that would be an immediate win.
There’s the RPM Act (Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports), which SEMA and PRI have been working with the Washington officials for several years; getting momentum up until this year, which… if you have followed that, it can be frustrating. But there was an attempt by one governmental group to take a bite out of racing – to not allow for the modification of street cars to go racing. It was the right intent, but SEMA got engaged, and the PRI Washington office, to help that conversation and then put corrective legislation forward. So that would be another win for PRI, that we’d get that momentum going.
But if you think about long-term, we do have an educational session, or multiple sessions, at each PRI Trade Show. I think that leads into a discussion about an educational council that allows for training of various topics.
I had phone calls to my office when I first took this job… there was a large racetrack facility, and one of my connections in the industry was trying to help the owner find an executive that could run this multimillion dollar facility. And he’s well-connected, but was struggling to find executives to run this facility. And I immediately wrote that down, like we got to solve for talented business experts to be coming into the racing industry and run these big facilities, run these big organizations, or help run these manufacturers. It’s a $46 billion industry. There are a lot of high-paying jobs. We need to make sure we showcase that, and train people in what the right way is, what the right skill set is, to take those positions.
RACER: You were on the ground at an NHRA event a few weeks ago. I’m assuming that was your first opportunity to view the sport first-hand through the PRI lens since you took the position. What were your takeaways?
JM: I was very interested to a part of that show. I got to meet with (NHRA President) Glen Cromwell and some of his leadership the day before, and it was really good to be comparing notes on what it’s going to take to run events like this. And I thought what the NHRA had done a very good job of was to set expectation, meaning there was great communications about… we’re going to hold an event. It’s going to be smaller. There’s going to be less people allowed. You will have to wear safety equipment. You will have to wear a mask. You have to be socially-distanced. You’re going to wash your hands. And they followed through on that, right? So there was a medical check. I got my temperature taken. I had a mask on, I washed my hands a lot. There was 5,000 people there. Everybody was looking around. Everybody was keeping a safe distance and the NHRA racers put on a great show.
So we can have racing in this world. And we think we can have a trade show. It takes disciplined racers, and it takes a disciplined group of attendees, but people can be safe. For me it was a huge success for all of racing, for NHRA to do that. So a lot of these positive wins are going to build momentum for the PRI Show in December. And we’re watching very closely. I’m sure all the racers are.