"Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

- from FORREST GUMP, 1994

Well, it's a great line, from a timeless classic, that's for sure. Of course, me "being me", I always wanted to tell good old Forrest that if you just look inside the lid of the box, you'd see a little map of the candies, to see where the best ones were. THIS way, you wouldn't have to waste your time getting one of those crummy hard red-jelly things … whose idea were THOSE stinkers anyway?

Seriously though, we aren't going to talk about candy, instead we are going to talk about how an Expo can be like an Onion Blossom from your favorite local sports bar. With one of those greasy, artery-clogging piles of goodness, it's all about peeling away at the layers. Which brings me to my "Excellent Adventure" (minus Bill & Ted) at the 10th Annual Race & Performance Expo, sponsored by The Hot Rodders Of Tomorrow, of Winners Circle Speed & Customs of Joliet, Illinois.

The Nitro Joint kicked off its existence with a dossier about car SHOWS, but this event at the Schaumburg (Illinois) Convention Center was an EXPO, and trust me, that is an entirely different animal. I come through the doors thinking, "well, it's booths, cars on display, models handing out swag, yadda-yadda." Oh, but that's just the 'blimps-view', Sparky. There is more, MUCH more going on here, and that again is why we must peel away at the layers. One of the most common complaints I hear on social media, message-boards and the like is that "those darn kids these days, they don't know SQUAT about working on cars!” Personally, I've been making a crack for years that a millennial’s idea of 'working on his car' is putting a PHISH sticker in the window. Well, when you get past the booths and banners, you realize a cool and positive program is brewing, courtesy of the folks at Winners Circle, and their Hot Rodders Of Tomorrow program. Let’s take a look at some numbers, shall we??

Winners Circle Speed and Custom, which is one of the last TRUE hard-core speed shops in the country (and remember when these things were EVERYWHERE? Whether it was the Super Shops over in Grayslake, or the little independents like Sexton Automotive in Crystal Lake, the once dominant entity is getting plenty sparse) started their HROT program in 2008 at their Expo (then in St Charles, IL) with a modest five high schools and 35 kids competing. From an acorn, a mighty oak tree will grow, and fast forward to 2016. A total of ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-FOUR teams competed at eleven events nationwide, in locations such as Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, California, Pennsylvania, Indiana and "Lost Wages" Nevada. Pretty impressive growth rate, don't you think?

It gets better, as you get further into the onion-blossom, Young Skywalker! These kids are competing for over four MILLION dollars’ worth of scholarship money, made available from a variety of institutions. THAT is some serious cash, race fans, and again with what I'm saying about 'peel away the layers', I'll bet some of the attendees were too involved with getting 'selfies' with the calendar-girl from the local rock station to learn about this great program, that is showing "those dang kids" that there is more to life than chasing "Poe-Kee-Mahn" on their phones....

Once the 'inner-layers' started to soak in, it became clear that this was more than just (as mentioned in my debut column) a way to "shake off the winter BLAHS", this HROT program is a key, heck, a SKELETON-KEY to jump starting our nation’s youth into getting back into spinning wrenches. Now more than ever, I wanted to shake the hand of the man who put my name on at the door, one Mister Tom Stockenberg of Winners Circle Speed And Custom. There was just one hitch with that, apparently Tom moonlights as a NINJA! That cat was GHOST, man! I could not locate him anywhere!

The Hot Rodders Of Tomorrow have qualifying events coming up on March 17th in Cleveland, Ohio, and on March 25th in Fort Worth, Texas. For more information about these good folks, their excellent programs (including job assistance, and area track information) and more, hit up their website www.hotroddersoftomorrow.com.

And of course, there was all the awesome-goodness of a large indoor racing event, which again, really shakes off the winter 'blahs'.  It was great talking to good old Todd Silvey, who I first met during my days with the United Drag Racers Association. The gang at the Great Lakes Dragway booth really made me feel at home, they have a big shindig coming up this summer and I hope to be there for that one.