Written by Steve Turner
Photography by Justin Cesler and courtesy of Performance Racing Industry
You might remember his voice echoing from the public address system at NMRA races more than a decade ago. He took a passion for drag racing into a fun interpretation of the events as they unfolded. At the time, announcing races, writing for car magazines, and helping run a racing series were just a side hustle for a scientist who loved cars.
Whether it was behind the mic or behind the keyboard, Dr. Jamie Meyer’s enthusiasm was impossible to ignore. Fueled by passion and acumen, he garnered the opportunity to make the jump the jump from the world of science into a full-time automotive career with General Motors.
During that 15-year stint, serving as Advanced Performance Parts Program Manager, the Performance Marketing Manager, as well as several marketing and advertising roles for the company’s brands, his impact was unmistakable. Working on projects like the COPO Camaro, E-ROD crate engine, and LSX race block and engine family left an indelible mark. He developed parts programs for the Corvette, Camaro models, as well as future battery electric vehicles, and developed marketing plans and trade show strategies. He also backed marketing partnerships with even series like NASCAR, NHRA, and, yes, the NMCA Muscle Car Nationals.
That résumé led to his most recent move to become the first President of the PRI trade show and media company. Most readers are keenly aware of the trade show as the yearly showcase for new hardcore hardware and the site of the annual NMRA and NMCA awards presentations. However, the Performance Racing Industry organization’s mission extends to fostering the entire motorsports industry by fostering engagement and offering support.
From the PRI office in Indianapolis, Indiana, Meyer will lead that charge. Knowing the industry is in good hands, we wanted to refresh you on his history, take the temperature on the current state of the racing industry, and peer into his crystal ball to see what the future has in store…
How did you fall in love with the automobile?
I was heavily influenced by my grandfather, who had fast cars and religiously followed Richie Evans, the NASCAR Hall of Fame Late Model racer. My Boy Scout Pinewood Derby cars were number 61. My parents supported my love of cars all my life, and I fell hard for drag racing before I got out of high school. I read everything I could get my hands on, and that lead to a lifelong love affair.
What was your first car?
My first car was a baby blue 1979 Pinto wagon, and it was as terrible as that sounds. My first real car was a 1986 Mustang GT that my parents gave me as a graduation present in 1987. They had ordered me a 1987 black notchback, stripped of all options, and featuring 3.08:1 gearing and a vinyl interior, but that car was going to be late for the graduation ceremony. So, they cut a deal for the slightly used ’86. I still have the GT with 29,000 miles on it. It’s largely stock, but I put hundreds of passes on that car when I got out of college in 1991. That first couple of years is when I learned how to drag race, and it led to a string of other, faster cars.
What made you a fan of racing?
I have always said that people are at their best when they are at a racetrack. I know I am. It’s a time that we work for and a time that we put all of our extra effort into. It’s very scientific. You have a theory about what will make the car faster, and the racetrack is the ultimate laboratory. The emotional side of racing can be intoxicating.
What led you to help create a drag racing organization — MOMS Racing?
It was 1994, and I was a graduate student at Upstate Medical in Syracuse. I often took my black coupe (a 1988 Mustang that I had purchased roughly a year earlier) out to the street races. I was on what was called Pepsi Road (there was a Pepsi distributor) in Syracuse with 300 of my closest friends. There were two street races happening at the same time — one from the left, one from the right. The four cars met each other right in front of the crowd, going over 100 mph in opposite directions. It was wild, but it was really stupid. I had a bunch of friends out there that night, and I could not imagine how I would feel if those guys had gotten hurt. We had held a Fun Ford Weekend that summer at New York International Raceway Park (I would go on to announce for Bill Alexander, as well as write a monthly column in his newsletter), and, while there were only a handful of heads-up cars, the racing was awesome. So, I decided to merge the two concepts – bring heads-up drag racing to a local drag strip, and I promoted it at the street races across upstate New York. Several friends joined in, I got funding from a friend for trophies, and 24 cars showed up to the first race.
How many events did MOMS put on and what were some of the highlights?
MOMS had a tremendous run — over 25 years. I put a ton of energy into the series in the beginning, but as my science career took me to the med school in Cincinnati, I had several friends step in to help. Mike Young, Andy Gallo, Frank DiGiorgio, Beep Kielkowicz, Tony Syracuse, Bill Drake, Henry Blau, and several volunteers made it possible. Melanie Gallo moved into the role of race director, and the long-running team was made up of Doug Beers, Scott Verkey, Rob Chandler, Brian Krakowski, Jim Noto, and the matriarch of the organization, my mom, known to all as Mom Meyer. Mom helped organize the races until we packed it all up in 2018.
The MOMS team ran five heads-up drag races through each one of those years with several hundred fans coming out to watch each event. We often had out-of-town stars like Manny Buginga, Jon Yates, Junior Ibanez, Turbo Don, Mondo Bob, Ricky Scott, Dwayne Gutridge, and a host of others show up. Cars ran into the 7-second zone in the last few years, and it was all based on the wild rivalry between Bob “Boss Block” Restani and Ed “Fluffy” Imhoff. I think what I enjoyed the most was watching our local racers like Vinnie Diflorio, Max Gross, and Brennan Ashworth develop their programs and go to NMRA events to mix it up with the national racers. Good stuff.
After graduating from Syracuse, your professional life began as a scientist. What did you research at the University of Cincinnati?
I had graduated from Syracuse with a Ph.D. in Anatomy & Cell Biology. I went on to Cincinnati to look at the effects of ion transports in various forms of cardiovascular disease. What I really wanted to do was to build a knockout mouse of NADPH Oxidase to verify that protein as a therapeutic target for heart disease. It was a long road, but I got a few papers out and got a couple of small grants.
At that time you also pursued your automotive interests. How did you get involved in announcing races and what are some your favorite moments behind the microphone?
Like anyone who runs a racetrack or a sanctioning body knows, you end up doing everything to put a race on. I was marketing MOMS Racing while in Syracuse and covering the Fun Ford events for Bill. My MOMS events were taking off, but the announcing was very… basic. “Red car versus black GT,” was about it. So, one night I tried the mic at a MOMS event. It worked OK. So, it wasn’t long after that Bill gave me a shot at a Fun Ford show to help pump up the heads-up program. For me, it was fun to talk about the cars that I loved so much, share my enthusiasm, and to make sure the racer was taken care of. I loved it. I was able to hype up a race or hype up a class, and people had a lot of fun with it. My golden rule is that the two guys on the starting line are the stars of the show — no matter what. I was known for my knowledge about the cars, the network of people that I could talk about, and well, the stuff I made up. Everyone got a nickname, everyone was a celebrity, and everyone had a special story… even if I had to make it up. The racing action was wild, and it led the way to the street car movement that we have today.
While doing scientific research, you also wrote for a number of publications, including this one. What attracted you to automotive writing, and what were some of your favorite stories?
My first car story that I wrote was published in the July 1994 issue of Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords. I had reached out to the magazines to cover the local events, the New York cars, and MOMS Racing. None of it worked out, so I just started doing it myself. I remember seeing that first article, and it was a rush. It made my buddy, Frank, so happy, and it was very satisfying to see my work in print. Plus, I was a starving grad student, so the extra money was great. I was going to every national race I could afford, announcing Fun Ford Weekend, and eventually I ran into James Lawrence and Steve Wolcott. They were running a West Coast publication called 5.0 Mustang, and they needed hardcore content. Steve and James have become two of my closest friends, and along the way I was involved in the very decision for them to branch off and form ProMedia Publications. I was positioned as the first editor of this magazine, worked the phones with James to help attract racers, and took on the lead announcing role. Those were great times with some of the wildest heads-up racing the industry had ever seen.
How did it come about that you made a career change from science to working at General Motors?
Looking back, I cannot believe how many races we all were going to. Something like 10 or 12 a summer with hundreds of our friends showing up at NMRA, FFW, Freddy Cruz’s Clash of the Titans, or World Ford Challenge. I was working full-time in the lab, writing about cars until two in the morning, and traveling every weekend to get to the next race. I had met a lot of people, and one of them was the marketing manager for GM Performance Parts. That team needed help with their 2005 parts catalog, and we put together a deal. I wrote the catalog with the help of Thom Bates and Bill Martens, on staff with GM at the time. Shortly after, they offered me a full-time position.
Making a major career change is unusual. Was it a difficult decision?
It took me about six months to make the decision. It was tough to leave science — a full-blown and developed career — but I was going after my passion. I knew that I could work on marketing race cars and race parts all day long and not regret it.
You were involved with several important projects at General Motors. What are some of your proudest accomplishments while working there?
Early products were the LSX block and the subsequent line of components and crate engines. Several of the LS crate engines, which were brand new to the market and not fully accepted. The launch of the LSX block led to the LSX Shootout. I enlisted the help of Steve Wolcott; Scott Parker and Justin Cesler from GM High-Tech magazine; and Nicky Fowler from Scoggin Dicky. I am proud to see these races continue as well as to see how well the Holley LS events have grown. I wrote the original internal General Motors brief on bringing the COPO Camaro back to Stock Eliminator. I was on the performance car team, so I was giving marketing and strategy input on new performance vehicle launches (both the Gen 5 and Gen 6 Camaros, as well as C6, C7, and C8 Corvettes) and content direction.
From a marketing perspective, I built the social media channels for Chevrolet Performance, oversaw the website updates, managed all of the communications, produced the monthly eNewsletter, worked on several Barrett-Jackson projects, placed hundreds of products with media outlets, did the trademark protection, and sold several billions dollars’ worth of product. This was all as part of the larger GM machine with teammates throughout the entire company. My last position had me setting the strategy for the performance parts portfolio for the company’s new production vehicles. I was working on the 2027 portfolio, trying to work with the larger GM team on what performance parts, racing parts, and calibrations look like in that future market.
During your time at GM you became heavily involved with SEMA. What inspired you to head down this path and what did you learn during that time?
I love the SEMA Show; it is amazing. It sets the pace for the industry. I had gone to my first Show as a freelance writer with the help of Uncle Robin Lawrence (now the Director of EFI Business Development at Holley EFI), and that gave me a leg up with the strategy for the display space for GM. When I began with GM, there were multiple brands fighting for Show space, but it ended up as a Chevy only event for the last few years. I worked with the SEMA advocacy team on an initiative in California to help folks find a way to swap engines and stay legal.
The work of Jim McFarland and Russ Deane inspired me to develop the E-Rod concept for crate engines and associated components. Leading the product development on E-Rod allowed me to see the bigger role that SEMA plays in the industry — how SEMA lobbyists and legislative experts could help protect the industry. I treasure my network in this industry, and I was nominated to run for the SEMA Board of Directors in 2018 to add a new perspective to the Board. I was able to get a lot of support from my industry friends, we ran a tight campaign focused on the tough future decisions that the industry will face, and we were very excited to be voted onto the Board.
Clearly you are not averse to making big changes, but what led you to take your new role as the first president of the Performance Racing Industry?
I am a huge fan of the PRI trade show. The first time I went to PRI was in 1998, and I have gone to the event in several different capacities: member of the media, sanctioning body rep, and as the largest race parts manufacturer on the floor. The PRI show is an amazing gathering of like-minded individuals who love racing and have made a career in the industry. When I looked at the PRI President position, I thought about the show first, but then the magazine and all the other communications channels that PRI has for the industry. PRI has a very talented team that I will get to work with. That played heavily on my decision. My work on the SEMA Board also showed the support that PRI has and will continue to have from the Board members, as well as from SEMA President & CEO Chris Kersting and SEMA Sr. Vice President Bill Miller. Chris Douglas is the current chairman of the PRI Advisory Committee, and his support and leadership adds a great deal of value to the President position.
You are charged with leading the trade show, media outlets, and racer engagement. What is your mission for the future of the racing industry?
There are a lot of discussions and strategic assignments on long-term plans for PRI. The pandemic has captured a larger part of my day-to-day, but I still have that future purpose in mind. Right now, the entire PRI team is working every day to help get racetracks online. We have hired three PRI Ambassadors — Tom Deery, Gene Bergstrom, and Frank Hawley — to go track-by-track across the country, working with their staffs and ownership to see what PRI can do to help get them back up and running. This largely involves the work of the SEMA legislative team in Washington, D.C., and led by Dan Ingber. We have a call center outreach program that is extending a hand and offering help. There is an in-depth survey that we are putting out, asking for information on how COVID-19 affected racetracks. This data will be shared with the PRI community to help them understand how the pandemic will affect their business. There is also a state-by-state update on PerformanceRacing.com where racers and tracks can see the latest regulations from their local governments.
As we make our way through this pandemic, we are focused on delivering a great trade show in December in Indianapolis. Safety is a priority, and the PRI Trade Show team, lead by Karin Davidson, is working with state and local regulators to ensure safety for our attendees. We are looking at the trade show as a continuation of the PRI tradition — bringing together the racing industry for the launch of new parts, sharing of ideas, and the development of business.
Long-term projects on my ‘to-do’ list include setting up the Indianapolis headquarters and staffing that facility with bright, energetic, and race-minded people who want to help build PRI. There are several other projects that I will get to that I just cannot share right now, and I should mention that I am always open to great ideas for racing.
Will you be involved in supporting more initiatives like the RPM Act that will ensure racing can remain viable in the years to come?
The RPM Act has been a real wake-up call to the industry. When the EPA questioned the modification of street cars with race parts, it put the entire racing and performance community on notice. Chris Kersting and the SEMA legal and lobbyist team have done a great job of navigating clear language to Congress to protect our freedom to modify cars. And, to the credit of the racing community, the RPM Act has gotten the necessary grassroots support that it deserves to ensure that our public officials give it their attention.
For PRI, as a lobbyist and advocacy group, we need to continue to be mindful of threats to the industry. This lifestyle is a luxury, and many folks look at it as a threat to the environment or to their happiness. You only need to point to one of the many tracks that have been shut down over noise complaints to realize how a local government can end your racing fun. PRI will work to provide support and protection for the industry going forward.
Entering this role during a historically challenging time impacting this industry, how do you see the racing industry and performance aftermarket evolving as we move forward?
PRI is working every day with tracks in your neighborhood to help them get back online. Thankfully, a lot of this work is paying off, and we are seeing tracks be able to open their doors for the first time in months. What the D.C. office can do is to rally a local market, put economic impact statistics in front of local officials, and separate racetracks from concerts. It largely depends on your state and your local government. Often, what I am seeing is that track owners do not know who to ask for help, but they are forming coalitions, joining forces, getting a voice in politics, and working with PRI lawyers to get back on their feet. We are going to have to continue this effort to keep this sport going. Remember, PRI is a voice of the community. When we call on the racing community, they answer, because racing is an American pastime that is worth fighting for.
With racing returning around the country, how is PRI helping the track owners and event promoters who don’t have the benefit of television audiences navigate the ever-changing challenges presented by the pandemic?
It really is about the mom and pop-owned racetracks. I think back to what I learned about running MOMS racing and my early days at NMRA, and I want those independent track operators to have a chance for a future in this industry. I think about the joy that these tracks bring their communities, and we must keep them going. PRI is working with them individually, with our Ambassador program, offering up insights on our website, and standing by to answer the phone if they call for help. The specific examples are the guidelines to getting them back open: providing best practices from CDC guidelines; insurance language on operating their facility; state guidelines on reopening; crowd sizing; and tracking the day-to-day changes of all of this.
Clearly you are a fan of grassroots racing, which is the backbone of the industry. What do you see as the way forward for these events, including the NMRA and NMCA?
It is going to take great teamwork and great communications between the track owners/mangers and the sanctioning body. The program may have to change – we have seen NHRA go to two-day events and back-to-back weekends to get things moving again. And it is going to take racers to get out and race. More than ever, you need to support your local racetrack. When that NMRA or NMCA race comes to your local track, you need to get out there. Buy some T-shirts and take some friends.
Will your new role allow time for you to get back out and participate in racing events?
I think so. We will see. I get to Milan a couple of times a year with my 2019 Z06, but it should be more. We are going to be moving to Indianapolis, trying to find a home closer to the racetracks, so I hope I can sneak over there. I would like to put a dedicated track car together again, but someone used up all the clean, black notchback Mustangs.
With your background, you have a unique perspective. How will you help evolve the PRI trade show for the future?
I think I need to draw on my communications background the most for this job to pay off for the industry. I want the average consumer to look at racing the same way they do stick and ball sports. If you have a company outing, consider taking your people to the go-cart track, road race experience, or a night at the drag strip. It will take all of us working together to get to that level. We have interesting people doing amazing things — that is a story that we need to tell better.
The PRI trade show welcomes all segments of the racing culture, and for new racing communities that may not be aware of the PRI Show yet, we need to go to them and welcome them in.
How will you approach engaging the youth in motorsports?
They live on social media. There are eight billion people on TikTok. Who is serving up state-of-the-art racing content to them? Or they may just live on YouTube looking for the next piece of amazing content. PRI needs to lead that effort, helping to showcase great racing content on multiple social media outlets. We also need to get our manufacturers further into video games and drone racing. All these young folks are coming up, living a racing lifestyle virtually, and some of them are going to make the jump to the real thing. PRI needs to position our industry in that light, show what an amazing amount of fun you can have at a racetrack, and show them the way.
Speaking of the future, you were involved with the release of the eCOPO at GM and Ford recently teased an electric Cobra Jet concept. Where do you see non-traditional powertrains playing a role in the racing world?
Everyone needs to realize that battery electric vehicles are the future. It is our reality. There are billions… billions… of dollars being invested in BEVs in Detroit right now. Entire portfolios are being upended, and internal-combustion-engine vehicles are being delayed or canceled so that more BEVs can be hurried into production. We need to get into the business of electric racing right now. Racers should know that some manufacturers are going to be offering performance BEVs soon. Heck, Tesla is what I would describe as an ‘accidental performance car company.’ Its Plaid triple-engine drivetrain is coming. It will offer performance that no current ICE vehicle will match. BEVs can be fast. It will be fun.
And, finally, where do you see the racing industry in 10 years from now?
There will be a resurgence in racing around the world led by folks wanting to get out and do something after being voluntarily locked in their homes for 1-2 years. Especially in America, we want to get out and have adventurous lives. If the PRI team has done its job, a whole new generation of racers, Gen Z, will be coming to a track near you. They will be driving BEVs with advanced electronics, adaptive calibrations, and sophisticated suspensions that allow for amazing performance. Threats to our industry will come up, but PRI will be there to lend the industry a steady hand through those times. The key to this is that we must come together and protect our freedom to modify cars and enjoy this lifestyle. Understand that a little sacrifice now will lead to endless possibilities for each one of us.