Stuck at Home with the Covid Lockdown – Car Projects

So here we are being asked, requested, directed, etc. – to shelter in place at home.  Sure you can get groceries and other essential things, but many of the things we car enthusiasts like to do are currently verboten.  No “cars and coffee”, no live racing, no swap meets.  Sure you can probably get away with some “drives to nowhere”, but this is also an excellent time to focus on your own vehicle or vehicles and see what you can do to prepare them for the open road – whenever that comes to pass.

Basic maintenance is probably something that you do think about.  Probably you change your own oil and may even do your own brake jobs.  Perhaps you are really skilled and experienced and do several things to keep your car or truck in shape.

How often have you consulted your owner’s manual?  Many of us know that it is somewhere in the glove compartment, but haven’t looked at it…ever!  Now might be a good time to browse this book and learn more about your vehicle.  Consider that a small team of writers, graphics designers, artists, photographers, and editors spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours creating this publication – all for the car owners benefit.

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Inside is a wealth of information.  Some things you might not even know about your vehicle, if you’ve never really read the manual.  Such as the maintenance schedule:

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Usually there are two categories, one schedule for regular maintenance and one for severe duty maintenance.  You might want to check the definition of the severe duty and be surprised that your driving just might fit that category.

This is a great time to check your tire pressures.  It is recommended that they be checked when cold so this is a perfect time to check them.  So what should your tire pressures be set to?  That info may be in the owner’s manual, but there should also be a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb with all that information.  The pressures might be all the same for both front and rear tires, or they might be different.  In any case check the pressures with a great quality gauge.

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A dial gauge is nice as are the digital ones now available.  While we don’t recommend the “pencil-style” gauges, they will do in a pinch, although their accuracy is often suspect.

While you are checking and adjusting tire pressures rub you hand across the tread feeling for wear and cupping of the tires.  Your hands will tell you far more about the condition of the tire’s tread than your eyes can unless you can get your car up on a lift.  Excessive wear on the insides of the tread indicates a toe-out problem.  Excessive cupping could point to your shock absorbers (or struts) no longer functioning as they should.  Granted that few, if any of us, have an alignment machine or a tire machine in our personal garage, but it is still important to know the tires condition.

It is also important to know the age of the tires.  Not when you bought them, but when they were manufactured.  So how do you tell?

Cast into the sidewall of the tires is a date code:

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In the example above it is the four digit numeric – 1715.  The first two digits corresponds to the week of manufacture – the 17th week of the year.  The second two digits is the year – or 2015.  If you have plenty of tread on your tires, but they are 5 to 6 years old, you should consider replacing them.  Tire manufacturers and the NHTSA give tires about a six year shelf life before they deteriorate with exposure to the elements and the sun, as this also reduces a tires safety and life.

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Above is another example.  You can ignore the JJC and focus on the four digits following.  It was manufactured in the 4th week of 2019.

If you can safely jack up your car so that you can spin each of your tires you can visually check for foreign objects that might have hitched a ride in your tire  (i.e., you have a puncture).  While you might expect that any puncture will lead to your tire losing air pressure or even going flat, it is not always the case.  Some objects can imbed themselves in the tread and not cause a leak or at least create a very slow leak that the TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) won’t detect right away. 

As I said prior, you probably change your motor oil and filter at a regular interval, but how often do you check your brake fluid?

“What”, you say?  While you may have a brake job done from time to time, as they do wear out, the brake’s fluid is often overlooked as a maintenance item.  Keep in mind that its most important characteristics are that it is not compressible and has a high boiling point (using your brakes creates a LOT of heat).  It also is hydroscopic.

What does that mean?  It means that it binds with water any time it can.  It will grab water right out of the air and over time will get wetter and wetter.  Keep in mind that water has a boiling point of 212 F.  Fresh brake fluid is well above 300 F and often in the 400s.  Adding water lowers the boiling point and introduces corrosion into the brake system.

So how do you tell when to replace your brake fluid?  Often you cannot tell by how it looks or how your brakes and clutch (clutch fluid is also brake fluid) are being effected by the water contamination.

There are tools that will measure the % water content.  Here is and example that can be had off Amazon.  I haven’t seen them available in auto parts stores, although they should be.

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It has a AAA battery in it and when the bottom cover it removed there are two prongs that are to be dipped into the reservoir so that the water content can be determined.

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Here you can see that it has detected about 2% water content, which is OK, but close to the 3% level that should inspire you to flush and change the fluid in the system.

Here is the same test on the clutch fluid, which on this vehicle, is kept in its own reservoir.

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This is looking even better at only 1%.

Of course, if you have an automatic transmission, you don’t have any clutch fluid, but you should check the owners manual for when it needs to be changed out along with the filter.

While you have the hood (bonnet) open be sure to look at the battery terminals for any corrosion.  Even if they look clean, check to be sure that they are tight and that the battery hold-down is also in good condition and tight.

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The negative terminal above is in great shape without any of the whitish-blue crystals that show corrosion.  Here is the positive terminal, that also looks fine.

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To show this terminal the red protector was moved out of the way and then put back in place after the photo was taken.  This is important!

If you need to clean the battery terminals BE CAREFUL!  You are dealing with both electricity and acid.  Wear safety eye protection and nitrile or latex gloves. 

Remove the NEGATIVE terminal FIRST.  I’ll say that again – remove the NEGATIVE post clamp FIRST!  Keep in mind that until it is disconnected ANY metal of the car is connected to the battery circuit and an accidental connection to the positive post of the battery will form a circuit INSTANTLY!  Bad stuff can happen as a result.  So be safe. 

Here are tools that can be used to clean the terminals and clamps.

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The wire “tooth brush” can work fine, but dedicated battery terminal tools are better.

AGAIN – wear safety eye protection and the gloves described earlier.

Sometimes the terminals stay tight to the battery posts even after their bolts have been loosened.  Be CAREFUL.  Don’t hammer them or pry with a screw driver.  Use a tool designed for the job.  Otherwise you risk damage to the post or terminal that could end up costly.

Here is one tool version:

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Well, I think that is enough for one day’s car activity.  Check your owner’s manual for other items that might need looking into.  Don’t forget your windshield wipers as they take a beating out in the sun and elements and likely won’t last 12 months.  More like six.

Enjoy the “Stay-in-Place” days as best you can and get those vehicles ready for a safe and trouble free ride!

 

 

 

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Willy T. Ribbs

 

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If you’ve never heard of Willy T. Ribbs, you should.  He was the “Jackie Robinson” of American auto racing who became the first African American to test drive a Formula One race car in 1986.  He would have likely gone on to race in F1 if the car’s sponsor , Olivetti, hadn’t insisted on having Italian drivers.

Willy was from San Jose, California, and was of America’s most talented race car drivers.  His personality was one that was as challenging as his driving that some characterized as “uppity”. 

Even though the 1960’s was regarded as the time of racial freedoms and of desegregation, racial bigotry continued well past the 1980’s in the United States, and in many forms of automotive racing.  Willy T. Ribbs, endured this reality with an attitude of “I’ll show you”. 

His talent as a race car driver should have lead him into the forefront of racing, but the color line still existed and impacted his ability to achieve what his talent clearly showed he was capable of.

https://racer.com/2020/04/16/willy-t-ribbs-lists-top-most-hated-drivers-in-a-talk-with-tony-parella/

The above is an exceptional interview with Ribbs that you should take the time to watch and listen to.  Then go to Netflix and watch “UPPITY” – an illuminating documentary of Willy T’s racing life.

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1955 Building a Car from Scratch

In 1941 Kirke Leonard was growing up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He was starting his first year in high school.  A few months later in December, with the attack on Pearl Harbor, World War II started.  His father, Parker Leonard, an accomplished pilot and designer/builder of gliders, moved the family to California and offered his expertise to North American Aircraft to assist in the war effort. 

While he was recognized as a talented aeronautical engineer, his expertise was in design and construction using wood and cloth, not the stuff of fighter aircraft such as aluminum and metal.  So back to Cape Cod the family went.  While there, Parker met with a person that informed him that the Navy was looking for someone who could design and manufacture training gliders for them and Parker was their man.  He moved the family to Connecticut, where the manufacture of the gliders was performed.  His son Kirke, was used to working around the Leonard foundry and machine shop back on the Cape as well as participating in his father’s aeronautical creations.

After completing high school Kirke went to Worchester Polytechnical Institute and graduated in 1951 with a baccalaureate science degree in mechanical engineering.  His best friend in college had gotten a 1951 MG-TD and Kirke enjoyed the sports car that was key to bringing road racing to America.  Within a week after graduation Kirke headed for California where he saw as the center of hot rodding, aircraft design, and racing.

He owned several cars including his own MG-TC and got a taste of road racing.  Several cars later he decided to try his hand at building his own sports car.  He liked the body style of the Jaguar C-type and built a clay model of a similar body for his own car.

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He found a Jaguar Mark VII parts car and used the engine and transmission from it.

He also got to know a couple of guys who had come to California from England who had experience in fabricating bodies from aluminum and who had brought a metal forming tool known as an English Wheel with them.

Kirke built the wooden body bucks that they would use as guides for shaping the aluminum sheets into body panels.  Kirke learned how to use a body hammer and dolly to finish the job.

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He built the frame himself starting with the main tubes that were six inches in diameter.  He had not been able to find such tubing in the thickness he wanted so he had them made from flat stock that was curled into a tube that he seam welded using oxy-acetylene gas welding.

The rear axle was from a Studebaker and he calculated what he needed for coil springs and had them made to his specifications.  He also designed his own trailing arm suspension for the front and rear.  

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The front axle was built by Frank Curtis to use Ford king pins and spindles that would allow for Jaguar wheels using knock-off hubs.

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Buick drum brakes were used front and rear as they were the most durable available at the time.  Disc brakes were not found on cars sold in America for several years.

Knowing that cooling was a critical element he used a large Ford radiator rather than the smaller Jaguar one.

With the frame and drivetrain completed the body was fitted.

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Kirke cut out the head light nacelles and equipped the car with all the required bit such as horn, tail lights, etc. 

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Kirke registered it as a Jaguar Mark VII sedan, to which it bore no resemblance, but it kept the DMV happy.

He drove it for a few years putting on perhaps 300 miles before he decided to start another project.  So he posted an advertisement in the LA Times and sold the car.  Who knows where it is today.

Kirke went on to work in the aerospace industry contributing to the Apollo project as well as constructing his brother-in-law’s prize winning human powered aircraft – the Gossamer Albatross.

Now in his nineties, Kirke still like to design aircraft and enjoy the California life.

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Another Car Magazine Bites the Dust

I recently received notification that Automobile magazine is ceasing publication.  I remember when it first appeared and eagerly bought a subscription. 

I suppose that commenting that it is a shame that this is occurring would be expected, but unfortunately I fear that it is just the beginning.  Magazines are expensive to produce and to mail and it is doubtful that subscribers, however loyal, will be interested in subsidizing the true costs, nor are there sufficient advertisers to underwrite the costs.

Time marches on and with it – change.

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PRI 2019–Friday!

One of the advantages of going to PRI as media is that I can get into the display area before the huge crowds do.  That gives me the opportunity to take photographs without getting in the way of the throngs of people who really are enjoying everything.  So this morning I had some time to wander and get some clear shots for you…

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It is a real contrast from when all the people are here.

QA1 offers many suspension upgrades that can take some older vehicles and transform their handling.  This display shows the engineering they put into their upgrades…

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Next is the Driveshaft Shop that is out near Charlotte, NC.  I had them make an aluminum drive shaft for my Miata track car project.

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Next stop was the Wilwood display.  They make many race specific brake solutions as well as upgrade for your street or track day vehicle.

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As you can see, they include master cylinder upgrades, too.  IT is another upgrade that went on the Miata track day car.

Tanner Racing Products has suspension goodies along with alignment and corner balancing tools.

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All are vital to getting the most grip out of your track vehicle.

Then there was GB fuel injector service and diagnostic equipment.  With today’s direct injection technology along with the traditional fuel injectors this is getting to be vital.

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When you think of filtration the K&N brand pops to the top.   They not only make great air filters, but also fuel and oil filters.

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While we are all familiar with track alignments and corner balancing, Creative Racing has a precise way of measuring chassis height.

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Check them out.

Pit Pall Products have a vast selection of all sorts of racks, gadgets, and pit tools to help you stay organized and efficient.

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Here is another look at Swift Spring’s new bump stop replacement for racing conditions.

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Ford Motor Sports was there with their performance products.  Be sure to pick up their catalog or go online.

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Tchnocraft has a great line of cabinets and work benches. 

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Here is an interesting one with a surface drain…

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Borg Warner had a great display of their turbos as well as some great cars…

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BMR has some clever chassis upgrades for that advantage in handling that we are all looking for.

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Wizard Cooling radiator products range from diesel trucks to European sports cars.

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ACP Headers even has header chairs for sale!

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Full Throttle has AGM batteries for many applications.

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Katech had a V-16 on display.  Originally produced for marine racing applications it is now moving to vehicles. 1200 hp

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Racing Rivets has – well rivets as well as battery powered rivet guns.

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If any of you are F1 fans than you want to see the Haas product line and support America’s sole Formula One team.

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3D printing is all the rage and for some very good reasons.  ExOne had a fascinating display.

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Check out these printed V6 blocks – the smaller one is about the size of a house fly!  the scalability is astounding!

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Fume Vac is just what you need for you fabrication welding.  Get those nasty fumes out of there!

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If you are printing 3D then you must be able to scan in 3D.  Here is a big project to scan..

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If you need to be certain your body complies with specifications…

This is the hand too you scan with –

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– and it transmits to this

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For smaller items..

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The company is 3D Systems out of Cary, North Carolina.

Motion Control Suspension has several levels of tunable shock/strut absorbers.  From stage one up to 4-way adjustability.

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They are out of Alpharetta, Georgia.  Check them out at motioncontolsuspension.com

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The crowds for day two were enormous…

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It was a great day and so much to see!

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Indianapolis and PRI 2019

I really do enjoy going to this trade show.  It was an early morning as the opening breakfast is not to be missed.  The shuttle bus had a heavy load of us to get there early this morning.

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When we arrived the line was already very long.

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It wrapped around several times, but soon we saw movement and then we were inside with the crowd of our brethren of the racing industry.

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We enjoyed the breakfast and that gave us a chance to get to know each other.  People are from all over the country and have varied racing interests and experiences.  With our phone we were able to share photos and videos of our adventures and our passions.

Soon we had the introduction…

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…and then the highlight of interviews from Ralph Sheneen.  There was Don Schumacher of racing fame and several of the racing stars that work with him.

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The stories were entertaining and provided much insight into their racing lives.

Soon it was over and the official opening of PRI 2019 began and the crowds descended the stairs to the acres of display area.

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The show was on and we started exploring.

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Stage 8 has one of the most incredible products for ensuring exhaust fasteners don’t vibrate loose.  This is especially important in the all-to-common turbo applications where heat and vibration work to loosen just about any bolt and stud fasteners used.  Stage 8 ensures they stay in place.

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Another great product that I was glad to see at the show was Jack Tech USA.  They make the fastest and safest strut spring compressor I have ever worked with and this show they introduced a heavy duty version.

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They have several great products that use their unique system of gears and transmissions to raise and lower in complete confidence.

Many other familiar faces were there such as Eibach and AP.

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Hunter was there with their products.

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Their latest tire changer is almost completely automatic to the point that once the TPMS is indexed and the dismount operation is initiated the operator can walk away and balance the previously mounted tire.

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They demonstrated their Road Force balancer as well as their latest alignment machine.  It was all very impressive.  I did my best to torture them with my most difficult operational questions, but they had done their design homework and their machines showed off how well they can deal with today’s challenges.

DSC Sport was there with their adaptive suspension technology.

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Penske Racing shocks was also represented.

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We are all holding our collective breath to see what Roger Penske does with having newly acquired the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy racing series.  If his past performance is any guide it will be a huge acceleration of the improvements that have already taken place in Indy racing.

Kittyhawk has a process by which they can remove the porosity in castings and additive manufacturing.

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Aegeus was one of several Chinese companies that were at PRI for the first time and showing of some impressive products.

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SCW Driveline was there from Australia with their products.

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ALITRAX showed off their Connected Racing Intelligence.  With things such as in-car flagging and Race Control notification.

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Swift Springs was there with a new product that replaces the common bump stop technology with springs!

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These go in place of the plastic bump stops that generally get over compressed with springs that are far more resilient and predictable.  Swift also had their usual vast catalog of springs that work for stock replacement as well as for many coil-over applications.

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The folks from Hawk brake technology were also present with an impressive race car display as well as improvements to their already impressive brake pad options.

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Streamlight had a vast array of LED work and task light technology.

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AGI roll cages have many products available that allow quick and safe roll cages to be installed without custom welding.

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Liland Global showed off their many products for cooling and for replacement stainless steel gas tanks.  Along with their oil pans.

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In the Lucas arena were many types and styles of racing trailers and motorized race car transports, but the one that really caught my eye was the open trailer that makes loading and unloading so very easy and practical.

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No more ramps.  Just lower the entire platform.

tomorrow we will take another look and share any gems we come across…

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Coming Soon – PRI!

Wednesday we travel to Indianapolis for the 2019 Performance Industry Industry show…

PRI 2019

More to come!

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