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My Week At SEMA

NKCS auto student Mason Purdon and his peers travel from Kansas City to Las Vegas for the trip of a lifetime.

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Words by Mason Purdon, Senior, North Kansas City Schools – Career & Technical Education Center, Kansas City, Missouri

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The SEMA Show was nothing like I had imagined. I had heard for years that it was the place where the best car builders debuted their latest creations and every manufacturer of parts and tools showed off their latest innovations. All of this was true, but SEMA has so much more.

What stood out to me was the show’s educational outreach and preparing the next generation of the automotive industry. We arrived on Sunday to get our custom Ford F-150 truck ready to present with Chux Trux at the Truck Hero Booth. (You might notice it from the October cover of Tomorrow’s Tech.) Tracking our steps from the Sunday we arrived, through the Friday when the show was over, and we walked nearly 41 miles. The craziest part of walking all that distance is we didn’t even see half the booths and displays. What we were able to see was amazing. Here’s a glimpse of my week at SEMA.

Tuesday, October 30

On the official start of the show, we all got up early so we could get to the monorail before the lines were too long. We should have left earlier. The line was at least 100 yards long.  When we finally got on, the monorail was packed. By the time we made it to the Convention Center, it was such a relief to get off. We instantly heard cars drifting and we got really excited. We had to stop at the truck for a quick interview with the ATEQ TPMS Tools crew, but all our attention was on the Shelby Cobra that was sliding and drifting in the lot close to the truck. After the interview, we split into two groups so we could accomplish the tasks we had for the day. The first group went to see the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow competition – something we are hoping to do in the future. I teamed up with Mr. Stow and we went to meet Mitch Fogle, president and CEO of Lund International. We also met Billy Bibb who is the lead designer for Lund.

We also found the edition of Tomorrow’s Tech that had our picture on the cover. It was so cool when we were able to show the people at the Lund booth the magazine. We were standing with all these people that had built such cool trucks for Lund and we had our truck on the cover of a magazine to show them. Nothing in the world has ever felt like that. Then we made our way over to the tool area. Hunter Engineering wanted to talk to us about our School of the Year competition. We also had an interview scheduled with the guys at the Mustang Dynamometer booth. We had done several dyno pulls on the truck before bringing it to the show and they wanted to talk with us about the truck. It’s incredible how much time it takes to move from place to place.

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John Gardner from Tech Garage on the Velocity channel later met us at the Luxor hotel and talked with all of us about doing a spot about our truck for his show. It was so cool getting to meet someone on TV.

Wednesday, October 31

On Wednesday morning, the others had to head back to Kansas City. I stayed with Mr. Stow and we headed to the show. We met with Rich Butler who is the owner of R&R Marketing. Rich works with some of the biggest names at SEMA. He had several meetings for us to attend. One of the first things we did was go to the Aeromotive booth. Aeromotive is a Kansas City company that sells all types of fuel systems. Then we went to the Energy Suspension booth to talk about their products. They had a custom truck only sold in Brazil – a 1976 B100 Ford wagon. The name of the build was ‘El Chapo’. It looked like an old Ford truck, but it was the Ford version of a Suburban. It was found in Brazil, brought back to the states and rebuilt. The grill was machined from a 1,000 pound piece of billet aluminum. When it was completed it weighed 76 pounds. The valve covers were also made from billet aluminum and they covered the heads on the custom Coyote engine.

We also went to the ARP booth and interviewed the vice president of the company. During the interview, the famous car builder Steve Strope walked up and joined in. Strope talked about staying safe while working in the industry. After that we went to lunch with Rich. We walked into the room and seated at the table right next to ours was the King, Richard Petty. We didn’t talk with him, but it was like we were in the presence of royalty. Rich introduced me to the president of Comp Cams and several members of the SEMA Board. It was only when we went to the SEMA Industry Awards Banquet that I found out who these guys were and how important they were to the industry. After lunch we had a few more interviews. We saw so many vehicles and we took over 200 pictures.

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Thursday, November 1

Thursday we stayed at the hotel a bit later. We met up with Carley Hull Millhone from Tomorrow’s Tech and we stopped by all of the Ken Block vehicles; the Hoonicorn, Hoonitruck and the Hoonigan Escort were all on display. There was also a 6X6 Denali and a full race Mazda right next to a chrome wrapped Jeep. We walked through several halls and made our way to the B’laster truck that students had built. We also talked to people from Edelbrock and Holley and finally made our way back to our truck, where we had a great meeting with the folks from SP2 Training. Later, John Gardner visited the truck for the piece for Velocity. That was awesome and he said it will air in December. We were exhausted, but we had one more event planned for the day: the SEMA banquet. When we walked into the reception, we were standing next to Dennis Anderson. He said “Hi” like he knew us. There were people in suits, people in shorts and everything in between. We went inside to a steak dinner and a lot of famous people. Chip Foose was only four tables away. We watched legends get inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame. Those legends were the guys we had eaten lunch with the day before: Donnie Eatherly, Chris Thomson and Ed Pink. These guys are the ones who started hot rodding. We went back to our hotel with huge smiles on our faces. The part that was so cool was how those guys sat down and talked with us. They were truly interested in what we thought and what we liked. They were ordinary guys who loved making cars go fast, just like us. The experience makes you realize anything is possible when you work for it.

Friday, November 2

On Friday we started back at the truck to get things ready for the  SEMA Cruise. Everyone was still excited, but it had been such a long week. We saw a 1976 Cosworth Vega that had been a 20-year project. There was the Hot Wheels booth with all the full size Hot Wheels. Everyone who was there treated us like friends and equals.

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We thought that was enough for this year and decided to visit the Hoover Dam. We walked from Arizona to Nevada and back again, all while talking about amazing cars and lifted trucks, and how we couldn’t believe we ate lunch with the Hall of Fame inductees. It was the perfect end to our first SEMA trip. The dam was huge and so was SEMA. The dam was a ‘Wonder of the World’ and in our minds, so was SEMA. We decided on the drive back to Las Vegas that we had to come back next year. This trip was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen and I can’t wait to do it again. 

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