Stop 6 of the 2015 Hot Rod Power tour took us to Gulf Port, Mississippi. First we made a quick stop in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to spend some time and mentor a group of automotive students at the Tuscaloosa Technology and Career Academy. This is a high school that allows students to specialize in specific trades, ranging from automotive to 3D animation. My high school barely had a wood working class.
As SEMA Young Executives in the automotive aftermarket, our group recognized the rare opportunity this group of students has. Their state-of-the-art facility is sponsored and supported by Snap-On tools and includes all of the latest equipment and tools. Many of them have already disassembled, and reassembled small block v8′s and had them running.
I was raised in a family of automotive buffoons (no offense) and there were no programs available until college. Even without being mentored or having the opportunities to receive training, I knew from a young age that the automotive industry was for me. The high level of training that these students have available to them is impressive and it was out task to help them realize that. It is easy to take opportunities for granted when you are young.
After our school visit we promptly headed south for Gulf Port, Mississippi. Arriving a little late to the show due to our school visit, we didn’t have the chance to mingle as long as we did in Birmingham but it didn’t stop us from finding some great young enthusiasts and professionals at the show. Keith McWilliams met a couple of guys that are celebrating their 21st birthdays by taking on the power tour in a Formula Firebird that they built last week… for $2,500. That sounds like a Top Gear shenanigan.
I had the opportunity to visit with Ian Lehn. Ian came on the Hot Rod Power Tour last year as one of our young executives. Ian is the perfect role model of how the SEMA organization can help launch enthusiasts careers in the industry. Each year, SEMA hosts an event call the SEMA Launchpad competition which pits young entrepreneurs against each other for a grant from SEMA to help get their business off the ground. As an engineer, Ian has developed a new and unique fuel additive that boosts octane levels called Boostane. Ian won the Launchpad last year and has seen a major impact in the growth of his business from that opportunity.
As a member of the YEN, I’m constantly on the lookout for who can benefit from our organization and how I can shed light on our great industry. Our 7th and final stop tomorrow will be in Baton Rouge, LA. We hope to see some of you there!
We spent a sweltering day in Birmingham, Alabama for day 5 of the Hot Rod Power Tour. Typically the power tour route avoids the interstate so that the drivers can enjoy the more scenic routes. Today, the YEN group took a more direct route so that we could make it in time for a school visit. Still, we ran into groups of long haulers on the interstate and it was like watching a traffic cam clip from 1970.
Our school stop today was Lawson State Community college where we shared our professional experiences and backgrounds with the students. We emphasized the value of the technical skills that they would be learning and how they can be used as a foundation in whatever path they take in the industry… even in sales or marketing.
From Lawson, we traveled the rest of the way to Birmingham and Hoover stadium for the show. Each of us found young enthusiasts or professionals to interview. For enthusiasts, we focused on what they wanted to do in the industry and provided feedback on how that can happen. For professionals, what can we do to create more awareness and how can they get more involved themselves?
Personally, I decided to interview a 9-year-old boy by the name of Aaron. Aaron and his dad are from Birmingham and were enjoying the show together. Keith McWilliams and I noticed how excited Aaron was getting around certain cars and suddenly I was 9 years old again. For me it all started with Hot Wheels and Motor Trend and I knew from a very young age that I wanted to work with or around cars. I wanted to be an automotive journalist. That’s why we spoke to Aaron, I was curious to know if he wanted to work in the industry. Turns out, he likes to take things apart and build things. “I want to be a scientist, or have a job where I can build things” he said. Thankfully, Keith being a product engineer for Comp Cams was able to shed some light on that aspect of the industry and Aaron ate it up.
I wish I would have ad the mentors in the industry when I was a young age. I may be in the industry now but I know it could have happened a lot sooner had I had that available or known where to look.
A few of our team members also interviewed some young professionals in our industry that are under the age of 40. Tim Brueggemann of B-Line Auto talked to Mike, who’s 38-years-old. Mike has been a car guy his whole life and has worked in the industry for 16 years. He works for Edelbrock.
Keith McWilliams interviewed Blain, the PR and marketing manager for Holley performance. Blain is 28-years-old and got into the industry after a 3-month internship. Keith loves the aftermarket and says’s that “The people of the performance aftermarket are what drive the passion behind American innovation. It’s not only an escape but also a lifestyle. The SEMA family of companies is very much a family and meeting other like minded individuals is the most effective way to promote our industry.”
Tomorrow we hit the road for Gulf Port, Mississippi in search of some much needed breeze and more future professionals! Remember to follow us on the Hot Rod Power Tour at #YenPowerTour.
Day 4 of the Hot Rod Power Tour began in St. Louis, Missouri at Ranken Technical College for some networking and mentoring with students in the Automotive program. Having gone through a technical program and having been in many technical schools, I can honestly say that Ranken is one of the most impressive programs and facilities I’ve seen.
Ranken’s program is supported by Toyota, Honda, Ford, and General Motors with many of the students having job placements ready and waiting at graduation. Programs range from general repair, overhaul, collision repair, and our favorite… performance. After an excellent tour of the facilities, we had the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the students and shed some light on the opportunities that are out there. In our group we have two custom shop owners, a manufacturer’s rep, a product engineer, and several marketing and sales professionals. Having worked as a manufacturers rep, I know first hand the great demand for skilled and reliable technicians and having that technical knowledge is a solid foundation and increasingly important and beneficial in almost any job in our industry.
To many young enthusiasts and professionals, SEMA is nothing more than the annual show in November in Las Vegas. The fact that SEMA is responsible for the growth, protection, and promotion of the automotive aftermarket is often unknown. Networking with SEMA members and seeking careers with SEMA member companies is also often a question mark. As members of the SEMA Young Executives network, we’re happy to help remedy this issue.
After our visit at Ranken, we headed south to Memphis for stop number four of the tour, after a quick stop at Waffle House of course! Stop four brought with it an attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Records for the worlds largest burnout, which was accomplished with 118 cars. After the show we retired to Beale street, birthplace of the blues where select long haulers displayed their cars. We enjoyed good food, good company, and of course, great cars.
Tomorrow the tour route will take us to Birmingham, Alabama where we’ll work with a Local High School and continue our quest to work with future young professionals.
Wind, hail, and even a tornado slowed us up on day 2 but the sun rose in Champaign, Illinois this morning to mostly clear sky’s and dried out our rides in no time. We quickly hit the road for Madison, Illinois (just across the river from St. Louis) for stop number 3 at Gateway Motor Speedway. Instead of autocross this time we got to enjoy some 1/4 mile drags where Hot Rod Power Tour participants got to test their reaction times and horsepower against fellow enthusiasts. A pair of Chevrolet S10 pickups were the fastest that Keith McWilliams and I saw for the day, tipping the lights at 10.4 and 10.5 seconds.
In search of young enthusiasts and young professionals/future professionals, Keith and I came across Andy from Atlanta Georgia. Andy and his friend are making the long haul from Madison, WI to Baton Rouge, LA as well in a Fox Body 302 Mustang. Andy lit up when we told him that we were looking for enthusiasts that wanted to know more about SEMA and getting into the industry. “I’m definitely interested” he said. Andy currently works for a restoration shop that specializes in restoring Mercedes-Benz’s, specifically the legendary 300SL Gullwing, one of my favorites. While Andy’s in the industry, networking with other professionals and SEMA members can help him advance in his career quicker than he would otherwise.
Keith and I were also able to meet the guys at Fusion Motorsports. Better known as the dudes that build the Shelby GT500 Eleanor replicas. They’d been scheduled to show their Shelby that’s making the trip at a drive-in showing of “Gone In 60 Seconds” last night in Champaign but got washed out. At least we got to learn more about the car in detail at the show in St. Louis.
Tyler Wesley, of Speedway Motors had a chance to visit with Austin Dicus. Austin is 19 years old and will soon be taking over the family business, Dicus Designs. The Dicus family runs a custom auto shop and are sponsored by Ford. They’ve built several one-off builds for Ford that have been featured at the annual SEMA show in Las Vegas, NV. Austin is only 19 years old and already involved as a SEMA Young Executive. Bryan Harrison, our SEMA Director of Networks, connected Austin with another YEN member that is with us on the trip, Tim Brueggemann. Tim runs a successful custom shop in Nebraska and had some good Tips for Austin who is already well on his way in having a positive impact in our industry as a professional and an enthusiast.
The automotive industry is for passionate people and that’s what makes it such a great space to work in. Our purpose as SEMA Young Executives is to lend a helping hand to those looking to enter the industry. Looking from the outside in as an enthusiast it can seem impossible, like a dream, only for those with connections and the right amount of luck. I’ve been there, I know how it feels. Our goal is to help provide those connections, remove the barriers and misconceptions and help ensure the bright future of the automotive aftermarket. SEMA’s current crop of young professionals will need to the pass the torch and we’re looking for the enthusiasts that can take us to the next level.
Just as the Hot Rod Power Tour is the Mecca of car cruises, the Midwest is home to some of America’s most extreme weather. Our group of SEMA Young Executives hit the road this morning at 9:00 AM, in hopes to reach Champaign, Illinois soon after the show at Parkland college opened it’s gates at 12:00 PM. After a beautiful drive through SE Wisconsin, including Lake Geneva, we had a hospitality stop at Heidts Engineered performance. Heidts, located in Lake Zurich, Illinois, manufacturers and distributes hot rod and muscle car products. After a brief stop for some food and tour of their facility, we were back on the road.
Not long after leaving Lake Zurich, we ran into the mother of all storms. Lightning (not of the Ford SVT variety) followed us clear to Champaign. Even now, we are under a tornado warning. Keith and I took the lead after Heidts in the Stingray and relied on RainX to keep our vision clear. Tim Brueggemann’s (B-Line Auto) 1953 F100 has some issues with fogging up the windows and so he and Cathy Clark of Bob Cook Sales had some wet backsides by Champaign. Needless to say, we found which cars had leaks :/.
Stop 2 at Parkside College was called early due to the weather and by the time we go to town, it had been packed up. We weren’t able to network with any future professionals in our industry but we certainly had an adventure. Tomorrow we’ll be headed for St. Louis, Missouri. Follow the rest of our quest to network with the industries young enthusiasts and future professionals with #YenPowerTour!
Several months ago I was selected to join the SEMA Young Executive Network on the 2015 Hot Rod Power Tour. For any car guy, the Power Tour is a chart topping bucket list item and I have been looking forward to the trip every since. The Hot Rod Power Tour is touted as the worlds larges road trip. For those that make the entire trip from start to finish (7 cities in 7 days) it’s over 1,500 miles and in total there are over 2,000 cars making the trip.
Today marks the end of day 1 of #HRPT15 in Madison, Wisconsin. It was hands down the biggest car show I’ve ever been to. As a SEMA YEN member, one of my tasks on this trip is to seek out other young enthusiasts and help foster the future of the automotive aftermarket. The way we see it, the upcoming generation, even my generation, is the future of the industry.
My partner in crime this week will be Keith McWilliams, a product engineer from with the Comp Performance group (commonly known as Comp Cams). We’re hitting the road in his 1976 Stingray Corvette along with 8 other SEMA Yen Members. Near the Autocross track, we ran into Zac and & Jess. A couple of local boys to Madison, WI with a pair of SVT Ford Focus’s. Finding young enthusiasts under the age of 35 can be tough at a show of this size that is predominantly made up of the older generation that can afford the type of cars that are common to the Hot Rod demographic. In truth, there is a place for everything at a show this size… as you can see here in the upside down Ford Bronco.
Neither Jess or Zac work in the automotive industry, Zac works in plastic engineering and Jess is in the food service industry. That doesn’t stop them from being involved. Both cars completed the autocross course in less than 26 seconds, quite a bit faster than the majority of V8 cars they were up against. While Zac and Jess don’t work in the industry it doesn’t mean they couldn’t if they wanted to. The truth is, we need more enthusiasts.
Though I wanted to, I haven’t alway worked in the automotive industry. A lot of networking in the industry has helped me to achieve many of my career goals and those connections are helping me to advance and gain valuable experience. More importantly, they are helping me to enjoy my career more every day. The goal of the SEMA Young Executive Network is to help people like Zac and Jess to realize this and provide networking opportunities for them to get into the industry should they choose.
We met a lot of unique enthusiasts today and will meet a lot more throughout the trip. Stay tuned for some more in depth stories as we go along and be sure to follow our adventures on Instagram through #YenPowerTour. You can find me at @ISpeakPerformance.