We all joke about the “thrill” of going to Indianapolis in December with the unpredictable and chilly weather, but the truth is the Performance Racing Industry show (PRI) can be a wonderland of products, services, education and networking for those of us involved in the race and performance space. It’s practically a family reunion for the post race-season, and like any family gathering there will be drunk uncles, unreasonable arguments, questionable fashion choices, suspect food and bad beer. Kidding (not at all kidding).
Presumably, if you’re there to do business – as a buyer, a racer, or an exhibitor – you’ve got that part covered, so here are some hard won tips and tricks to navigate the non-business aspects of PRI. Knowing the lay of the land ahead of time can help keep things fun, friendly and fruitful.
Food! Sure, not everyone feels the need to plan out all of their meals ahead of time. I understand this, in theory. I need to plan three days out even when I’m home because that’s the kind of obsessive person I am. However, in Indy, if you don’t want to eat dinner at 9 p.m. at the Springhill Suites T.G.I.Fridays four days in a row, you need to follow my example and plan now! (Actually, since I’m way behind in getting this article out, you should have planned a month ago, but it’s still worth a shot!)
- Make dinner reservations. Go, do it now before you keep reading! There are a ton of great restaurants in downtown, near the convention center, so don’t get discouraged if Harry & Izzy’s and St. Elmo’s are already full. (But if you do get in, I hear the shrimp cocktail is fab!)
- Inside the convention center, you’ll find the standard (overpriced) fare – sandwiches, salads, greasy pizza and burgers. There’s a very decent carving station that does hot sandwiches as well. You’re going to average $10-15 for lunch, so plan for it if you can’t bring your lunch. Sit at a table with new folks and get to know them. They’re equally tired, hungry and ready to drink a $4 Diet Coke, so take advantage.
The convention center options are not accommodating of a specialty diet, and frankly, trade show season is tough all around if you are avoiding gluten, meat, alcohol or dairy. Plan accordingly, and know that there’s a Starbucks in the Marriott lobby, only an escalator and wind tunnel away from the main hall.
Wardrobe. If you’ve got a sense of fashion, you’re going to need to leave it at the door in Indy. Winter + convention center climate + representing your team or your business means that we all look a little like hot dog vendors in our polos and khakis (and bless your company if they let you wear jeans). If you’re there as a buyer or a team, you’ve got some freedom, but frankly, the convention center is a microcosm of fluctuating temperatures so keep that in mind.
- Shoes. Choose function over form! Indy is cold. Cement floors are brutal. Shoes that keep you warm and offer lots of cushion for standing, grip for potential ice and snow, and support for a ton of walking are essential. Get ‘em now, and break them in.
If you’re there as an exhibitor, make sure they also offer lots of knee and back support. Standing on the cement floors at PRI (even with cushioning or carpet) can be brutal. And don’t forget decent socks.
- Pockets! I make the mistake every year of buying pants that look good on my butt, yet lack adequate pockets. I shove my phone, pens, business cards, etc in there, so make sure you know what you’re going to need. (Usually, it’s going to be pockets!) Jeggings are great for travel, sure, but again, they tend to lack front pockets so if you’re going to need those, maybe choose differently. (Pro tip: Old Navy and Target both have great sales on jeggings this time of year, but order them NOW in case the sizing is wonky).
- Layers. I’m always cold, so I always have a sweater for the showroom floor, even when I spend my days running from booth to booth or between our exhibitor space and the media lounge. Know yourself, and know that if you’re going to be in a booth wearing polyester, you’ll want the option to layer.
Hydration. Drink water. So. Much. Water. (The convention center has bathrooms around every corner, and men outnumber women. They’re all clean and bright, with plenty of stalls so there’s no excuse for dehydration). You’ll be walking and talking and likely drinking more caffeine and alcohol (if you imbibe) than you might normally. Late nights are the norm, so make sure you’re being kind to your body. And remember, that Bloody Mary sounds GREAT at 10 a.m., but when you need a nap at 11:30, you’ll be regretting it. There’s super mediocre coffee at the concession stands, and a Starbucks in the Marriott but if you’re more an Energy Drink person, make sure you’ve got a stash in your room. Same for water. Don’t pay convention center prices!
Hauling your crap around. Get a backpack and ditch the shoulder bag! You’ll be picking up swag from vendors. You need someplace to store that water bottle and sweater! You’re back, knees and shoulders will thank you for distributing the weight across your whole body.
Wifi and Electronics Chargers. Double check that you’ve packed your chargers and that you have them in your backpack during the day. Photo and video ops are plentiful on the show floor, and you’ll want to take advantage, along with using your phone for business. The Wifi can be sketchy, or has in the past, so again, plan accordingly if you don’t have unlimited data. Just remember that everyone else is using it, too. Stave off the inevitable frustration of not being able to post huge files, and wait for later.
Sleep. Make sure you get enough sleep. This includes asking yourself if that last shot at the Slippery Noodle is really a good idea (it never is, but you do you). Sleep keeps you from getting convention crud. It helps you navigate the next day on the show floor. It keeps you from yelling at the person who keeps stopping to look at their phone in a crowded aisle, blocking traffic when you are desperately trying to make a 9:30 meeting on the other side of the convention center. Sleep won’t happen if you don’t plan for it, so PLAN for it.
Necessities. Not to be graphic, but trade shows seem to jump start my cycle. So I can tell you with certainty that the CVS a half mile from the convention center is the most convenient place to get tampons, shampoo, advil and anything else you might need if you don’t have a car. It’s walkable even in the snow. Again, I can tell you this from personal experience. And that if you’re staying at a hotel, they’ll also have a temporary supply of anything like that — toothpaste, deodorant, razors, etc. I have had to ask them for all of it.
Have fun! PRI is my favorite trade show. Some of it is the feeling of family. Some of it is the way that the weather conspires to keep everyone inside, so they seem cozy and familiar as they fumble with parkas and swag bags and the exhaust pipe that they just bought. Some of it is the fact that this is my 9th time at the show and I like the rituals and routines — as a RacingJunk staffer that means handing out thousands of t-shirts, telling thousands of people that they have to put them on to get them for free and watching dudes strip down to their skivvies like they’re daring me to give them a shirt. Dude, I told you to put it on. I’m not bothered by your man boobs. I still win, because I make the rules. But mostly, it’s that Indy is a warm, friendly place for visitors and PRI takes place right before the winter holidays so people are ready for a break, and want to enjoy their time at the show. Plus, there’s a wine bar around the corner with a cozy fire, which is where you will find me when the show is over. Unless it’s waiting in line at TGIFridays because I can’t follow my own advice.