PRI Magazine January 2015 : Page 38

JIM BINGHAM Hot Rodders of Tomorrow To begin t he new year, PRI interviews Jim Bingham, president and CEO of 1st Performance Warehouse and Winner’s Circle Speed and Custom. Now in his 48th year of leading these companies, Bingham’s passion for success and knowledge has yielded some interesting obser-vations concerning the high-performance and racing market, which he gladly explains on the following pages. Bingham’s Winner’s Circle Speed and Custom currently has three retail locations in Illinois—East Moline, Peoria and Joliet—and engages in the wholesale trade as 1st Performance Warehouse. A longtime SEMA member, Bingham received the Chairman’s Service Award in 2009, and has served on the SEMA board of directors for the past five years. An Illinois native, Bingham has contributed to numerous endeavors, including involvement with successful race venues like Route 66 Raceway and Chicagoland Speedway. He also operates the thriving regional race trade show Race & Performance Expo, scheduled to take place February 14 and 15, 2015, at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois. Another role Bingham cherishes is chairman of the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow, which is a program that attracts the important youth demographic to the automotive aftermarket and motorsports. The Hot Rodders of Tomorrow program allows teams of high school students to engage in competitive engine disassembly and assembly. Teams from across the United States compete at 10 events throughout the year, with two additional championship rounds occurring at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis, Indiana. The dual championship engine building format was introduced last fall, as 29 teams qualified in the regional events and five wild-card teams were invited to Indianapolis for a total of 34 teams. Fifteen teams competed at November’s SEMA Show during the first phase of the championship. Next, the final championship round between the top two teams from SEMA and the top two teams from the PRI Show took place in Indianapolis. Bingham, 71, and his wife Linda have been married 46 years. Both grew up on farms and now live on a working farm in Newark, Illinois, about 25 miles west of Joliet. Linda is vice president and controller of Winner’s Circle. The couple have three daughters, one son, and 13 grandchildren. Bingham credits the wonderful employees that help run the stores and warehouse. Jim Bingham’s life is devoted to the furtherance of motorsports and the automotive aftermarket through his Hot Rodders of Tomorrow and his many business ventures. Performance Racing Industry 38 | January 2015

Industry Insights: Jim Bingham

Greg Zyla

To begin the new year, PRI interviews Jim Bingham, president and CEO of 1st Performance Warehouse and Winner’s Circle Speed and Custom. Now in his 48th year of leading these companies, Bingham’s passion for success and knowledge has yielded some interesting observations concerning the high-performance and racing market, which he gladly explains on the following pages.

Bingham’s Winner’s Circle Speed and Custom currently has three retail locations in Illinois—East Moline, Peoria and Joliet—and engages in the wholesale trade as 1st Performance Warehouse. A longtime SEMA member, Bingham received the Chairman’s Service Award in 2009, and has served on the SEMA board of directors for the past five years.

An Illinois native, Bingham has contributed to numerous endeavors, including involvement with successful race venues like Route 66 Raceway and Chicagoland Speedway. He also operates the thriving regional race trade show Race & Performance Expo, scheduled to take place February 14 and 15, 2015, at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois.

Another role Bingham cherishes is chairman of the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow, which is a program that attracts the important youth demographic to the automotive aftermarket and motorsports. The Hot Rodders of Tomorrow program allows teams of high school students to engage in competitive engine disassembly and assembly. Teams from across the United States compete at 10 events throughout the year, with two additional championship rounds occurring at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The dual championship engine building format was introduced last fall, as 29 teams qualified in the regional events and five wildcard teams were invited to Indianapolis for a total of 34 teams. Fifteen teams competed at November’s SEMA Show during the first phase of the championship. Next, the final championship round between the top two teams from SEMA and the top two teams from the PRI Show took place in Indianapolis.

Bingham, 71, and his wife Linda have been married 46 years. Both grew up on farms and now live on a working farm in Newark, Illinois, about 25 miles west of Joliet. Linda is vice president and controller of Winner’s Circle. The couple have three daughters, one son, and 13 grandchildren. Bingham credits the wonderful employees that help run the stores and warehouse.

Here’s Jim Bingham talking about today’s youth, our aftermarket, and his successful enterprises.

PRI: Jim, let’s start with some of your business ventures. Can you tell our readers about your Winner’s Circle retail stores and how you decided to open that very first store?

Bingham: I was working at Lang Auto Parts in Kankakee, Illinois, and I was the youngest counter guy. I was a farm boy just breaking into the business. I didn’t know anything about high-performance parts, but since I was the youngest, when a customer came in for racing and performance parts, that customer was given to me. I had to figure it all out and then sell the items. After a year, Roland Lang was going to expand performance parts, so I went up to see John Bell in Bay City, Michigan, who had two speed shops and a warehouse. They were heavily involved in drag racing, and boy did I get enthused. I came back to Lang’s and told them we needed to take his West Station Street store and make it a speed shop and explained why. He declined, but I was so enthused I knew I had to be the one to make it happen.

PRI: So, how did you swing that first speed shop?

Bingham: I went and found a partner by the name of Don Wiley, who was a drag racer and a friend. Being a farm boy, I really learned about racing from Don. He and I then opened up our store, Winner’s Circle Speed and Custom. And by chance, do you believe that the only store we could find was directly across the street from Lang Auto Parts?

PRI: I’m sure that caused some concern.

Bingham: Boy did it. Next thing we knew, Roland (Lang) immediately changed his West Station Street store to a full speed shop just as I had recommended, but we all have to keep in mind here I was just an energetic farm boy who was already sold on drag racing. I wanted to sell speed parts, but had way more energy than knowledge. But, thanks to Don (Wiley) I went from no real experience to learning as much as I could.

PRI: Then what happened next?

Bingham: Well, in the town of Kankakee, in less than two weeks it went from no speed shops to two full-time operating speed shops. It was like gunslingers at sundown, David versus Goliath. We had energy and no money, while our competitor had the money and was directly competing. But we competed well and made it all happen.

PRI: The lesson here is that following a dream, having great passion and a desire to learn are the main ingredients for success. This theory still holds true and is the basis of many modern success stories.

Bingham: Correct. And in this theory I knew I needed a drag racer behind the counter with me. I just knew it.

PRI: In your wildest expectations, did ever think it would grow into what you have today, including all the publicity and sponsors you have with the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow to the trade show?

Bingham: No. I remember my wife one time showed me an article on ADHD (laughter), and I’m sure I fit all those symptoms. My mind is going all the time on numerous projects, and I’m always trying to make things happen.

PRI: What specific need nowadays, in our industry, do you feel is lacking or should be addressed more fully?

Bingham: Our youth.

PRI: Tell us how you attracted youths to your “High School Engine Challenge.”

Bingham: There is one special person I need to give much of the credit to in developing this series. I may have been the one to start this type of high school engine building competition, but the person who really led me to the water was Vic Edelbrock Jr. He was at my first show at the Race & Performance Expo, and we had a demonstration with the High School Engine Challenge there. He wanted to go see it, so I walked over with him as my guest. He watched what was happening, poked me in the side and said, “This is what we need to do across the country. This needs to happen.” I told him, “Fine,” and that I would help him do it. But he turned to me and said, “Jim, I’ll help you because you are the one already doing it.” So, out of respect to Vic, I may have started this, but it grew thanks to Vic. When I did my first show, I wondered if it was going to work, but when I saw all those young kids come in with eyeballs wide open and all thrilled, I knew it would work.

PRI: How about your growth curve? I see many of the top student teams were at our PRI Trade Show in December. And tell us about how quickly the engines are disassembled and then assembled.

Bingham: We started in 2008 with five high school teams for a total of 35 students. In 2014, we had 110 teams and 770 students compete. The record time to disassemble/assemble the engines has continued to drop. The first place team in 2009 ran a 44:22 time. In 2013, it dropped all the way down to a 19:15 average time.

PRI: What would your mission statement be to these kids?

Bingham: That we use an engine to really teach everyone that it is a “we” world with a “w” instead of an “I” world. Everyone needs to work together as a unit to make something happen. So, in addition to the mechanical benefits, we’re giving these kids some great life skills, too. I want to make sure we have the youth coming into our industry and sport. So, overall, we need more youth (with varied talents). That’s what this program is about.

PRI: How quickly did things move once Vic Edelbrock Jr. Gave you approval?

Bingham: The first year we did this, we were surprised by the number of manufacturers who quickly let us know they wanted to help. It grew like wildfire.

PRI: What is your ratio of male to female in the student competition? I know in your promo video online it shows a young blonde haired girl working diligently putting the engine together.

Bingham: Right now, we’re not yet at 10 percent female, but it has started to grow. We’re proud to say that for the first time, we brought an all-female team to SEMA, and we have a second team in the works. So, we’re working on that ratio right now, all for the better. We have one all-female team coached by Mason Miller out of Georgia that will certainly be competitive. Overall, we started with just five teams in 2008. But in 2009, Chris Kersting, president and CEO of SEMA, and Vic Edelbrock Jr. Found a way to bring us to the SEMA partners we are changing their lives and giving them opportunities that they would not have. Rodney is honored and blessed to be a part of the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge.

PRI: You were on the SEMA Board of Directors when the vote came up on whether to purchase PRI. Can you tell our readers how that went?

Bingham: Yes. I couldn’t raise my hand any quicker than I did in agreement for SEMA to purchase the PRI Trade Show and its magazine. You don’t get many opportunities to purchase a credible trade show of PRI’s caliber, so I was very pleased that the purchase went through. Also, SEMA has made it perfectly clear that the PRI Show is going to always operate as the PRI Show we all know, and the SEMA Show will always operate as the SEMA Show we have always known.

PRI: You also put on a successful Race & Performance Expo, which is a regional racing show that takes place next month. How diverse is it?

Bingham: Each year we continue to grow and add to our diverse selection of vendors. This year we are adding a swap meet. We are on Valentine’s Day in 2015, and fill two buildings. We operate out of the DuPage Expo Center with our circle track expo; and two years ago, we added a car builders showcase. At this time of the year, football season is over, racing is just starting, and people are all ready to go. We average around 8000 race industry entrepreneurs, buyers and enthusiasts, and we’re always growing the show.

PRI: How about your thoughts on the aftermarket and the fact it is primarily an American-based manufacturing industry?

Bingham: Great point. And yes, we are an American-based industry. The aftermarket doesn’t fit the now-common USA business model that relies on foreign goods for 60 to 80 percent of its offerings. We are just the opposite; we are pretty much all USA made by USA workers. Granted, we do have some items coming in from foreign markets, but we’re 80 percent USA made, if not more.

PRI: How about current political legislation. In the past, I remember one bill that wanted to do away with “clunkers” that were in reality someone’s collectible automobile. Have things improved in Washington thanks to the efforts of organizations like SEMA? Do our politicians finally realize how strong of a workforce we have and how valuable we are to American-made goods and American-based jobs? I always cringe when I hear politicians say that businesses and corporations don’t create jobs, because in the aftermarket industry, we certainly do create jobs without much government help.

Bingham: Things are indeed better because of SEMA, but you never want to become complacent when it comes to Washington politics. When you look at the SEMA PAC and what we do to ward off bad legislation, I think we’re in very good hands. There are some really good things going on right now to protect and promote what is good about our American-based industry. A good example being our May 2014 Washington Rally where we met with congressional leaders to promote aftermarket job growth and US-based manufacturing. We try to cater to everyone from the car hobbyist to the hardcore racer with SEMA and PRI, because without the customer, you cannot sell anything.

PRI: Any concerns, Jim, for tomorrow?

Bingham: I’m always concerned about the lack of youth, and we must be vigilant to make sure we do everything to attract that youth. NHRA does its part, NASCAR does its part, and so do SEMA and PRI. We’re all working together in this effort. I believe we’re on the right track. Also, as you noted in the previous question, you must always be concerned about legislation. We do have it under control for all the right reasons, but we can’t rest on our laurels.

PRI: How about social media?

Bingham: We do our part the best we can, and need to keep coming up with programs to attract the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow. Too many people use social media to play games—and the phones are a big problem, too, with all the texting. But here is a prime example of how working together and how social media has made a difference in the life of a student named James Seeley. A few years ago, James was called out of his high school class to be notified that he had won a full SEMA scholarship that paid for his entire program at OTC’s Diesel Technology Program. We first met James when he was captain of Team Fel-Pro/ Joliet Central High School at our Division Three Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge Championship in February of 2009. Then, their team went on to win the first Hot Rodders of Tomorrow National Championship “Showdown at SEMA” in November of 2009. So, because of Hot Rodders of Tomorrow, James received a $10,000 scholarship to OTC, which he took advantage of in 2010. The SEMA Scholarship pays the entire 18-month tuition for James’s program in Diesel Technology, and it was social media that was responsible, as James found the SEMA scholarship opportunity on our Hot Rodders of Tomorrow website.

PRI: I know there are many you want to officially thank in print.

Bingham: Yes, I’d like to thank Chuck and Tom Begler, who maintain and build competition engines for us in the Midwest and East Coast. They are also our head judges for the program. Ray Regis, who is our Midwest trailer operator/driver, and also a judge. Larry Langford is our West Coast trailer operator/driver, and also is a judge. Russ Bacarella maintains and builds competition engines for us on the West Coast. Russ was also a former threetime national champion of the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow. I also want to thank the many volunteers who judge, drive, fix engines, sacrifice their time, and do many other things they do that make this program possible. On a sad note, we lost one of our best judges on May 5, 2014, and he was only 60 years old. His name was Jim Puracchio. He was also a crew chief with Tony Schumacher in his early drag racing days. He loved sharing his craft with them and helping them get better.

PRI: Thanks, Jim, for your time, and continued success to you.

Bingham: My pleasure, Greg, and my best to everyone at PRI.

Read the full article at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/Industry+Insights%3A+Jim+Bingham/1892560/240066/article.html.

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