Sema History

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Sema History

  1. 1. SEMA SPECIAL SEMA Is 40 A Glimpse Into the Organization’s Founding and Growth s SEMA celebrates its A 40-year anniversary, it’s only appropriate to take a look at the history of the association and its reasons for being. It began in 1963. Bobby Vodnik drove a Chrysler Hemi- powered dragster to Top Eliminator at the NHRA Nationals, racing to a speed of 175.75 mph in the quarter-mile. Parnelli Jones won the Indianapolis 500. He qualified with a lap speed of 151.153 mph on the 2.5-mile track. And a group representing 13 speed equipment manufacturers got together to organize the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association, or SEMA. Today, Top Fuel dragsters routinely achieve more than 300 mph in NHRA competition; Kenny Bernstein holds the speed record at 332 mph. In 1996, Arie Luyendyk qualified for the Indy 500 with a lap speed of 236.986 mph, the fastest ■ The “early days” scene at Bell Auto Parts. Johnny Glew, a long-time employee of Roy Richter to date. is working behind the counter. The store’s interior, including the clock, was replicated for This year, SEMA’s corporate member- the SEMA Speed Shop in the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. ship tops 4,700 companies, and the SEMA Show—the flagship exposition of the auto- The Indianapolis 500 has been held every misconceptions about the earliest days, motive aftermarket—is projected to have year since 1911, interrupted only by war. how the organization got its start and the about 1,700 exhibiting companies. Retail SEMA’s beginning was humble, but, as reasons behind the creation of SEMA. sales volume of the specialty aftermarket is history reveals, the early pioneers of the more than $27 billion. organization couldn’t have imagined the The True Story Drag racing has its roots on the dry impact their work would have on the auto- One might say that SEMA was born as lakebeds of Southern California, circa 1930. motive aftermarket. There are a few a result of an industry that was destined to 56 SEMA NEWS August 2003
  2. 2. SEMA IS 40 ■ Edelbrock was one of the charter member companies of SEMA. Pictured are Vic Senior and Vic Junior at age 14, today the CEO of Edelbrock Corp., located in Torrance, California. change motorsports in America, and it spent most of their spare time in the bar- Others were soon to follow, among them actually started with the activities on the racks talking about cars and performance George Wight, who operated Bell Auto Parts dry lakebeds of California’s Mojave Desert. during their tours of duty. Their interest (named for the city of Bell, California), Alex It was in the late 1930s that enthusiasts— and activity prompted a surge of interest in Xydias with SoCal Speed Shop and many not yet named hot rodders, but soon to be the rodding hobby, along with industry others. As Don Raleigh once said, “In those identified as such—tested their homemade growth, and not just in California, but also days all you had to do was hang out a shin- products designed to throughout the country. gle that said ‘speed shop,’ and you had a cus- improve the perform- By the late 1940s, the GIs promised one tomer base.” Until a few years ago, Raleigh ance of their vehicles; an increase in top speed demand for speed another that a car would be a first priority when operated a chain of his own stores in the east- ern United States. was the primary goal. equipment required a they got home, and a Although the industry became firmly Their cars (today enthu- commitment among the hot rod was at the top of established, there were assorted problems. siasts say their “rides”) each one’s list. Distribution was a key issue. Manufacturers were the proverbial, makers of the add-on By the late 1940s, the sold directly to retail outlets (speed shops) stripped-down coupes products, and speed shops demand for speed and to consumers, the end-users of prod- and roadsters of the era, most of them Fords, but sprang up across equipment required a commitment among the ucts, bypassing wholesalers. Extending credit also was a problem. old-timers are quick to the country. makers of the add-on The late Els Lohn described credit as “an remind us that four- products, and speed absolute nightmare. The manufacturer had cylinder Chevys were in the mix as well. shops sprang up across the country. The no way of checking out a new customer, After World War II, when servicemen first, according to history, was Lee’s Speed such as a jobber or retailer. Later, ware- returned home, they were eager to get back Shop in Los Angeles, owned and operated houses and a lot of companies got burned into the speed trials. They had, after all, by Lee Chapel, himself a dry lakes racer. by non-payers.” 58 SEMA NEWS August 2003
  3. 3. Eventually, more serious problems Rings, drew up SEMA’s first bylaws, using was thought that if uniform standards were would emerge in the guise of governmen- the MAA documents as a guide. developed by the trade association for all tal regulation, and calls for some form of Interesting bit of trivia: The first organi- sanctioning bodies, competitors would product specifications were beginning to zational meeting of the Speed Equipment more readily accept them as a part of the surface. The need for a trade group was Manufacturers Association was held at rules than if the sanctioning groups, such glaringly evident. Revell headquarters in Los Angeles. Revell as NHRA and a few others, dictated the Strange as it may seem, it wasn’t credit, wanted to have that advantage over rival specs,” recalls NHRA founder Wally Parks. distribution or problem legislation that AMT, a model-car manufacturer also The program was put into place as the prompted the formation of SEMA. It was seeking permission to use miniaturized “SEMA Specs Program.” A few ground a total outsider, Henry Blankfort. decals in its kits. rules were made clear: SEMA did not at Blankfort was a principal with Revell, a any time approve products, nor did the company that manufactures model-car “Meets SEMA Specs” association test them; SEMA was the cata- kits. He came in search of permission to The Speed Equipment Manufacturers lyst that brought the parties together to use racing product manufacturers’ decals Association was incorporated in May achieve a set of specs for gear used in in Revell’s model car kits. In a meeting 1963. The first president was Ed racing, a critical mission of the trade with Dean Moon of Moon Equipment Iskenderian. Soon, the association group. Co. and Roy Richter of Cragar addressed an important issue: product “As it turned out,” Spar explained, “the Equipment, Blankfort and his associates specifications. whole thing with NHRA came together as were shocked to learn that an association With the encouragement and help of a result of critical issues with regard to safety- for the performance industry did not exist Jack Hart of the National Hot Rod related products” for the fledgling trade to handle his request. Association, Bob Spar of B&M and Holly association and motorized racing sports. At the time, in ’63, Revell was a member Hedrick of Schiefer Clutches, a SEMA of MAA, the Model Association of specs program was made official in 1967. From Speed to Specialty America, a group busy arguing against leg- Manufacturers of products in the program Then, in 1968, governmental regulation islation to control glue sniffing. Revell were permitted to advertise, “Meets SEMA became a serious issue, prompting the offi- offered the bylaws of MAA to performance Specs.” cers to change the name from “speed” to industry leaders, and John Bartlett, an “At that time, racing organizations needed “specialty” for a better image. By the mid- attorney and president of Grant Piston the benefit of product specifications, and it 1970s, regulation was a serious threat to
  4. 4. SEMA IS 40 Charter Member Companies of SEMA and the Founders/Owners American Racing Equipment Jim Ellison Ansen Automotive Engineering* Louie Senter B&M Automotive Products* Bob Spar CAE Racing Products Jim Culbertson Chuchua’s 4-Wheel Drive Brian Chuchua Cragar Equipment* Roy Richter Crankshaft Co. Huey Holik Edelbrock Equipment Co. Vic Edelbrock Eelco Manufacturing & Supply* Els Lohn Enginetics Ruth Wilson Grant Industries* John Bartlett ■ Alex Xydias founded So-Cal Speed Shop. Pictured is the first shop, located in Burbank, California. Halibrand Engineering Ted Halibrand Hedman Manufacturing Co. Bob Hedman Hurst-Campbell Inc. George Hurst the survival of the industry. Peril swinging generation’s preoccupa- Inglewood Tire Co. Bill Krech came in the form of California’s no tion with speed.” Officers at the Ed Iskenderian Racing Cams* Ed Iskenderian modifications law, implications of time not only agreed, but were the Clean Air Act, vehicle inspection also unanimous in their feeling J.E. Engineering Bill Pendleton procedures, off-road land use, noise that the word specialty better Milodon Engineering* Don Alderson pollution and emissions control (the described the market that was Moon Equipment Co.* Dean Moon start of catalytic converters). The list rapidly expanding in scope to grew virtually unabated. include what was then defined as Offenhauser Sales Fred Offenhauser It was necessary for SEMA to hire custom products and today Potvin Equipment Chuck Potvin its first attorney to represent the asso- referred to as restyling—embrac- Schiefer Manufacturing Co.* Paul Schiefer ciation in Washington, D.C. Earl ing the full gamut, from custom Kitner was the first corporate coun- wheels to leather interiors. Scott Engineering sel, soon replaced It wasn’t Segal Automotive Al Segal by Eric Grant. It was in 1970 that the name until 1976 Shelby American Carroll Shelby SEMA hired Grant of the association was changed that SEMA away from the got a taste of Spalding Products Tom Spalding California Air to Specialty Equipment Market legislative suc- Speed-A-Motive Harold Osborne Resources Board Association to more appropri- cess, thanks to Thomas Automotive Products Bill Thomas (ARB), assuming Russ Deane he’d have the ately describe the mix of and his col- Traction Master Co. Maury Leventhal inside track on reg- companies involved and their leagues in Trans Dapt* Willie Garner ulatory matters— activities, embracing Washington, W&H Engineering Bob Wyman California was D.C. The emerging as the distribution and retailing. court accepted Weber Speed Equipment* Harry Weber problem state. SEMA’s vol- Weiand Power & Racing* Phil Weiand Russ Deane followed years later as untary parts self-certification Dempsey Wilson Racing Cams* Dempsey Wilson SEMA corporate counsel. program under the Clean Air Henry Blankfort Group Henry Blankfort More trivia: It was Kitner who Act, thereby allowing the indus- asked for the name change from try to continue to produce and “speed” to “specialty,” saying, “a sell emissions-related parts. (The *The founding companies of SEMA, the Speed name change would assist greatly in victory also ensured that vehicle Equipment Manufacturers Association, 1963. our representation. Elderly bureau- manufacturers couldn’t void crats are not likely to appreciate the new-car emissions warranties 60 SEMA NEWS August 2003
  5. 5. because performance parts were used on and growth. Noel Carpenter produced an then on, booth sales and attendance the vehicle.) industry-wide exposition (initially a increased dramatically. Further change—the product of chance for the speed equipment manufac- “Unlike other trade shows of this kind, growth and expansion—occurred in the turers to showcase new products) in 1965 the SEMA Show has always been a buy- 1970s, when dealers and distributors were and ’66. However, the shows were not and-sell arena—manufacturers come with brought into the membership ranks and sponsored by SEMA, although SEMA did order books in hand. The success of the were allowed positions on the SEMA receive a split of profits in 1966. A check show is measured by the amount of Board of Directors. It from Carpenter in the business that is done,” stated Louie was in 1970 that the The first show was held amount of $535 was Senter, founder of Ansen Automotive name of the association deposited in the SEMA Engineering, one of the original member was changed to under the cold and damp account following the companies of SEMA. Specialty Equipment grandstands of Dodger ’66 show. The SEMA Show was so successful in Market Association to It was in 1967 that Anaheim that the exposition outgrew the more appropriately Stadium in Los Angeles, SEMA arranged with facility. During Leo Kagan’s term as presi- describe the mix of awaiting the completion of Bob Petersen of Petersen dent, the show moved to Las Vegas in 1977. companies involved the Anaheim Convention Publishing Co. to pro- Words of praise have repeatedly hailed the and their activities, duce the first SEMA SEMA Show and its value to the overall auto embracing distribution Center, where the exposition Show. It was under the industry. A line from an editorial about the and retailing. was moved in 1968. guise of Hot Rod SEMA Show in Car & Driver magazine said By 1978, about half Industry News (Alex it best: “The gathering is a sensitive barome- of the SEMA membership, more than Xydias, editor), and Dick Wells produced ter of the automotive business.” 1,500 businesses, were located east of the the event as an employee of Petersen’s So, as SEMA celebrates 40 years of Mississippi River. Special Events Division. existence, members are reminded of the The first show was held under the cold history of the industry and the associa- The Barometer and damp grandstands of Dodger Stadium tion. While many regard the annual of the Industry in Los Angeles, awaiting the completion of SEMA Show as SEMA the association, The annual SEMA Show is certainly a the Anaheim Convention Center, where the reasons for being extend far beyond major factor in the association’s vitality the exposition was moved in 1968. From the trade show.

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