The SEMA Show (Specialty Equipment Market Association) is Disneyland for car people, and it isn’t the easiest place to get to, especially for a young high school gearhead like myself. The struggles for my Hot Rodders of Tomorrow team to get there were quite large, but we made it happen together.
Getting to Vegas
Our team had to come to realization that automotive competing teams don’t share the same recognition or funding as a high school football team or a drama club. Our journey began at the district level to even get their approval to attend this once in a lifetime opportunity. But, after a few meetings and invitations to have district personnel actually come to Hunter High School (located is West Valley City, Utah) and watch us practice, we got our approval to go to SEMA. I want to personally thank our shop teacher Mr. Perkins and our school principal Mr. Stauffer for the countless meetings they had and hoops they had to jump through for our team to get to Las Vegas.
Our second objective for our team was how we were going to get down to Vegas and where the money would come from. Because this was a school team event, the district requires the teacher and students to travel together. And, because there were seven students going, two of which were young ladies, the district also required an additional male and one female chaperone.
After a couple meetings with parents, there were two options: 1) the team could charter a bus, stay in the same hotel and split the cost between students (a few thousand dollars per student) or 2) they could go out to local businesses as a team and raise money, and then work with the school district to find a cheaper method to travel together. After a lot of leg work from our teacher and parents, the team was able to work with a travel agency the district uses, and we raised almost all of the money needed to fly down and stay as a team. Because my mother and father were able to go, they fulfilled the role of the additional chaperones.
Monday, Oct. 30
It was finally here, our first exciting day of travel. We all met at the Salt Lake City International Airport bright and early. After about an hour of flying we landed and drove two rental vans straight to the Las Vegas Convention Center. There we met with one of the parents who had agreed to drive down all of our tools and unload them onto Hot Rodders of Tomorrow’s huge trailer for safe storage throughout the week.
Following that we got our sweet shirts and badges that we were to wear all week. As a team, we were then brought together by Hot Rodders of Tomorrow to ask questions and receive a reminder about representing our official sponsors (ours was Hedman Hedders). This really gave us an insight on how to talk to adults, and we were all ears to learn about networking opportunities.
After our debriefing we had some spare time to walk around the outside of SEMA, and we got a sneak peek of the crazy built cars and trucks from around the United States. Later that afternoon, we had the opportunity to do a meet-and-great (almost like a career day) where companies and schools in the automotive industry could interact with students and potentially offer careers after graduating high school. To wrap up the day, we checked into the Cannery Hotel, where most of the competing schools were staying.
Tuesday, Oct. 31
On the actual opening day of SEMA we left the hotel at 5:30 a.m. to get a light breakfast and then headed straight to the Hot Rodders trailer. We stood front row to watch the first runs of the day and learn what we could from the other teams. After that we were the first in line for the grand opening of SEMA 2017, and you wouldn’t believe how many people and cars that were actually there. Around midday we met the rest of the teams upstairs in the Convention Center to take a written test for the competition. Hot Rodders tests us on engine parts and basic information, and the team’s average scores get assigned a number, which adds some time to your team’s average final score for the competition.
After that we headed back into SEMA, where we were actually caught off guard by WWE wrestler Bill Goldberg yelling out “Hedman Hedders,” the sponsor on our shirts. After a few pictures, our teacher took us to see Bob Chandler’s original Bigfoot monster truck, and we met our wonderful sponsor and SEMA Hall of Fame inductee, Ron Funfar from Hedman Hedders. After that we completed our first run, which was a bit slow for our first time competing at this level and in front of hundreds of SEMA spectators. During the Hot Rodders competition, each team has to tear down a 350 Chevy engine, and then reassemble it to exact specifications.
Wednesday, Nov. 1
During our next adventurous day, not only did we get to meet Richard Rawlings, but we also met the driver of the Gas Monkey Garage Camaro in the Mello Yello drag racing series, Alex Laughlin. Towards the afternoon we got on another bus to take us to AAPEX, another tool and equipment show in Vegas, where we met up with representatives from WIX Filters and O’Reilly Auto Parts to take pictures with the trophy our school won as the 2017 Tomorrow’s Tech School of the Year.
After lunch we went back for our second Hot Rodders run, which was the fastest time by far of all our runs. Not only were our families and the crowd excited but our main sponsors were there watching, too. To finish off the day, a teammate, my mother and I had the awesome chance to do the Continental Tire Extreme Driving Experience where we went drifting in a BMW.
Thursday, Nov. 2
On Thursday we were the first teams to do Hot Rodders runs, and finished up with a team electrical wiring challenge. Even though this was knew for me, I actually found a mistake in our wiring and we were able to fix it and finish in under 20 minutes.
Later that morning we were lucky enough to meet and get pictures with the famous Diesel Brothers from Utah. Throughout SEMA we saw many famous people and nicely built hot rods and trucks – it was truly overwhelming. That afternoon the top Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge teams were announced. We actually finished 16th, but we were very proud of how we did. Our sponsors were so impressed with our runs and the passion they saw that they personally invited us to a special VIP banquet for SEMA. Normally only the top four teams were allowed to go, so we were very humbled to go. To top off the night, Billy F Gibbons from ZZ Top closed the dinner with a bang.
Friday, Nov. 3
Friday was the last day of SEMA so we visited all of the booths we had missed. We caught Dave Kindig walking around and got his autograph, and then went outside to find a seat for the annual SEMA Cruise we had been hearing so much about. We also got to see the judging of the top 12 Battle of the Builders cars, and the top three were picked to follow Jay Leno to kick off the cruise. I’m not sure if our team will make it to the SEMA Show again, but this experience impacted my life so much. I hope I get the chance to go again!