Imagine standing at the front entrance to your favorite theme park, or maybe one that you’ve dreamed of going to since you were a kid. You feel a sense of excitement and the buzz that causes the hair on your skin to stand up. It’s electric- that moment when you’re about to enter through the gates and BAM! It seems as if a whole new world has opened up and you’ve got a million choices and directions to choose from. Now, imagine the greatest theme park on earth when it comes to the likes of an automobile enthusiast; a park full of cars, motorcycles, lifted trucks you can walk under with insane fabrication, manufacturer’s with new products to showcase, car builder’s and their dreams that have come to life, glassed out paint jobs, large manufacturer car playgrounds, machines to make nearly anything your heart desires, wheels and tires galore…are you day dreaming yet?
Each year around Halloween and lasting through the first Friday in November, people from all over the world ascend upon Las Vegas for a four-day automotive adventure they are sure to be wowed by. What originally started out as just a trade show, SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) has become a near stand alone showcase of limitless creations, new product showcasing, and long standing traditions for the past 50 years. For being my second go at such a crazy week as SEMA, I thought that starting my journey a bit early would help to ease into the chaos. I was utterly mistaken; there is no preparing for the week of SEMA. (Ha!) I flew out to Sacramento, CA, the Thursday evening before the week of the show to meet up with friend and CAtuned owner, Igor Polishchuk, and the rest of the CAtuned crew. We woke up early the following morning and headed to the shop for a few hours so the guys could put the finishing touches on their projects. A few of us left around 3:30 that afternoon for Las Vegas with what I call the “Little Monster” (a rat rod turbo M20 BMW 2002) in tow. The last caravan left the following morning with the S54 swapped Minte30 painted Porsche mint green and fitted with a full carbon fiber Mtech kit. The almost 9-hour drive put us into the suburb of Henderson, NV, approximately 20 min from the Las Vegas Convention Center around 2am where we met up with another e30 owner and customer of CAtuned whose car was also accepted into SEMA. After a few hours of sleep, the guys were up early to start their weekend journey of waiting and staging cars for the next few days. I know I am a little biased when I say that these BMW’s were some of my favorite cars of SEMA before the show even began. More about the company, products and their cars can be found at www.catuned.com and IG: @catuned.
Before I begin to dive into the depths of the SEMA ocean, I want to state that my main focus this year was to see SEMA through the eyes of a female in the industry. I can honestly say that it was a lot harder than I anticipated even with my understanding and experience having previously worked in a body shop, being around cars for years and currently working in a machine shop. The main reason? There are so MANY amazing females in this rapidly growing industry that it’s hard to keep up with all of them and what they are doing during that week. I tried to attend as many events geared towards girls interested in the industry and women who were actively working in the community, leading, or blazing trails alongside (or even out in front) of their male counterparts. At the 5th annual Gear-up Girl networking event, I met a group of high school girls and their leader from Belvidere North High School out of Belvidere, IL, who were there to compete in the first half of the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge Dual Championship. This challenge involves a Chevy 350 small block engine of over 200 parts that has to be dismantled piece by piece in front of a judge and then put back together before time can be called. There were among 20 teams from all over the US there to compete for a Top 4 position so they could move on to the Elite 8 playoffs last December in Indianapolis, IN. After speaking with their leader, Jill Arata, I learned that her husband was a shop teacher at the high school and that she had helped his all-boys engine building teams for years. When she decided it was time to start a team or two of her own, she approached the school board with the idea of an all-girls team and they accepted it. She wants young girls to be involved in engine building to show them that there is reward for hard work and also to show them that they can work in automotive fields just as males can. The final competition happened Thursday evening and I was there to capture part of the action. Her girls rocked the house by taking 2nd place out of 4 top teams in the finals. Their time of 22:04 was extremely impressive being that they were the only all girls team to reach the previous Elite 8 EVER. Watching them compete was exhilarating, and it seemed everyone watching was really rooting them on to do well. I wish them the best of luck in their future competitions.
During the same networking event, the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network awarded several Athena awards to women who worked in the industry, owned high profile businesses in the industry, and some that have held a position of positive influence for female enthusiasts through social media. To say that I felt as if I were this microscopic, unimportant being in such a large industry during that award ceremony would be an understatement. On the other hand, I feel that we all hold value in a place that hasn’t always been welcoming or has been narrow minded at times about the women who were interested in it and their abilities. My eyes were definitely opened up more when I realized that the scope of women actively participating in all aspects of the industry is MASSIVE. There really isn’t a place that a woman can’t be influential if she really wanted to be. Here are the winners of the Athena awards and their descriptions:
''Melanie White of Hellwig Products was awarded the 2016 SBN Athena Woman of the Year,
an award established to honor an industry woman for her outstanding achievements and contributions in the automotive aftermarket.