The Nitro Joint w / "Chicago Jon" Hoffman

Cruising the Race & Performance Expo for Car Chix

Spring is in the air, and while racing is under way in the south and on the left coast, here in the Midwest, we are still a month away. How DOES one beat those winter blues and get a race car fix? Not to fear because we have, once again, the Race & Performance Expo taking center stage at the Renaissance Schaumburg (IL) Convention Center. The event turned eleven this year and we found it to be "one louder", no, wait, that's SPINAL TAP!


This year’s event, again sponsored by the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow was bigger and better than ever. Tom Stockenburg and his team really out-did themselves this year, as things were truly amazing. But there was one thing I circled on the day’s agenda from the get-go, and that was to attend the Car Chix seminar, starting at 9 a.m.


A few things about racing seminars. They are free, informative, and fun, but I am routinely out of my element at these deals. The first time I ever did something like this was at the 1979 running of the US Nationals. Back then, I was sleeping in the parking lots of the Holiday Inn closest to the track (yeah, I'm that cheap) and that year, when I wasn't stealing ice from their machine, I crashed a cam seminar hosted by none other than Harvey Crane. Checking my journal notes from that night, I discovered that I "didn't understand a damn thing he said" but had a good time because "there were free sodas, horse-divers, and magazines, and I 'boged' a lot of each". (aah, simpler times)


Car Chix has been on my radar for some time now, via their usual appearances at the Byron spring races, and being a virtual fixture at Great Lakes Dragway. One of my old 'Friends of Broadway Bob' brethren, none other than "Nitromethane Mary" has shared some cool stories about them over the years, the best of which was a day at Cordova Dragway Park. 'Nitro Mary' single-handedly took over a Breast Cancer Fundraiser and turned it into a "vaudevillian exercise" that had wheel standing legend Richard Hutchins blushing like a little kid! (saying 'care to autograph these fuel-containers' will not generate as much attention as "Who wants to sign my JUGS"?!)


So, off to the upper level of the vast Renaissance center in search of conference room number...and this one killed me. They do not number the rooms, they have names. Goofy, modern-era, touchy-FEELIE names! You can't get away with calling them 'A', 'B', or whatever, it has to be 'Prosperity Room', or 'Nirvana Room' (which I feared could be full of coffeehouse slackers, wearing flannel shirts, hating everything) or the, I dunno, "Inner Peace Room". Oh brother. If there has to be elaborate names, can we go a little more mainstream? Hey, it's Illinois, you could have the Lincoln Room, the Heston Room, the Santo Room, the Capone Room (Patrick, not Al). ANYWAY, I get there, and the seminar begins....


Hosted by Jeanette DesJardins, who founded Car Chix in 2009, we have a panel discussion with a diverse array of guests. Marina Anderson, who drives the Anderson Family A/FD based out of Villa Park, IL, was carrying the torch for the quarter-mile drivers this day. Representing Indiana-based Precision Turbo and Engine was the insightful and delightful Heather Dorethy. How vast is Precision’s impact on motorsports? When your clients range from Glenn Hall (snowmobiles) to Poteet & Main (Bonneville) to Brad Ingram (tractor-pulling) to Bruno Massel (NHRA), it is more than a 'broad assumption' that your products cover a lot of turf. (I made that same lame pun during the Q&A session, and as Jeanette was the first to laugh, I consider this to be "sanctioned buffoonery.") Last but not least, representing those who 'turn left' on race day, driver for Ken Venturini Motorsports in the ARCA division, none other than Natalie Decker. You could say that the season started with a bang for Venturini Racing, with Natalie grabbing the pole at Daytona and teammate Mike Self taking the checkers. (in a car sponsored by SINCLAIR! -- winner of the Chicago Jon 'Old-School-COOL Award!)


A lot, and I do mean a LOT of ground is covered in the one hour that Car Chix is allotted to have the 'Tranquility & Fulfillment Room' (or whatever) and subjects ranging from the importance of sponsorship, to the effect of social media, and the critical importance of interacting with the fan base are covered. The session could have continued on for quite some time, but there were a robust agenda of seminars slated for the day, and much like an awards show, the band is ready to fire up and let us know it is time to move along.

Move along we do, and back to the main floor, now PACKED with patrons, as the Expo continues on. As I did last year, not enough can be said about the fine work being done by the (event sponsor) Hot Rodders Of Tomorrow. Greg Parker and his group are doing an amazing job of getting the nation’s youth involved in the almost lost art of 'spinning wrenches'. Toward that end, a new part of this year’s display was the interactive tables where kids were encouraged to grab a wrench and tinker with engines identical to those found in Junior Dragsters.


Never underestimate the power of that group of racers; the runner-up in last season of the Midwest Super Comp Series, Chad LaMont, got his start as a lad in junior dragsters. A quick stop at the 103.9 The Fox radio station booth to chat with my buddy morning man Eddie Volkman (who was told to turn down!) and then over to the autograph session the event pulled together, which is always a great time to shoot the, er, uhm, BREEZE! The panel was vast, with guys like Arnie 'The Farmer' Beswick, Dale Creasy Jr., Rocky Ausec and Mark Horvath of the Great Lakes Nostalgia Funny Car Circuit, and, my FAVORITE 'Dago' on the whole planet, the always approachable TJ Zizzo, driver of the Rust-Oleum Top Fuel dragster. The attendees were lined up for ALL these racers, and it was a great chance to really interact with the drivers. No offense to the soda-pop meet & greets at the big show races, but this was NOT a 'say hi to Antron, take your hero-card and beat-it,..NEXT!'


In closing, another round of applause to Tom Stockenburg, Greg Parker, Jeanette DesJardins and everyone at the Race & Performance Expo for everything you've done and continue to do. Circle your calendars for June 23rd and the Car Chix Battle Of The Sexes race at Great Lakes Dragway. And last of all, a special thanks to Kevin Wilson of Racers For Christ. You, good sir, are special and we, the racing community, want to thank YOU, for everything YOU do.


I AM Chicago Jon, time for me to say...C-YAAAA!  



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