By Mike Henle

The 2018 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) and AAPEX events roared into Las Vegas for its four-day extravaganza Oct. 30-Nov. 2 and you can bet that the annual gathering at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Sands Expo and Westgate Las Vegas left its mark.

Venders, buyers and builders along with a long list of prominent automotive-related personalities tied to the world of motorsports converged on the city with a star-studded gathering that has been frequenting the area since founder and mastermind Leo Kagan brought it to Southern Nevada from Anaheim in 1977.

Originally started in 1963, SEMA represented an annual economic impact of $234 million in Las Vegas last year.

Especially considering that SEMA is second only to the Consumer Electronics SHOW (CES), this event once again dominated the City That Never Sleeps with everything imaginable for the gear heads of the automotive world.

In typical fashion, SEMA literally gobbled up every square foot of the area whether talking about the Las Vegas Convention Center, Westgate Las Vegas or Sands Expo. If the space wasn’t used for displays, it was the scene of Drifting exhibitions with enough earth-shaking power plants to rattle the windows of the surrounding hotel-casinos.

Kagan said last year that he moved the show to Las Vegas for a pair of reasons including the available space along with perfect weather conditions. In true fashion, the weather gods kept the skies blue and the temperatures perfect.

Illustrating that SEMA is as strong as ever was a Young Accessorizers Report that said eight million young drivers in the United States drove over 155 billion miles in 2017; and that 58 percent of Accessorizers spent over $7 billion modifying their cars last year.

In fact, 58 percent of accessorizers would rather give up their phone for a week than their car for a week. Enthusiasts of all ages are spending money and time keeping their cars cool, no matter what the brands or models.

In short, the fascination of classic cars is stronger than ever before, as illustrated at the 2018 gathering in Las Vegas.

Among the thousands who attended was exhibitor Bryan Pratt of A2Z Extreme Custom. An entrepreneur and first-time visitor of the extravaganza, Pratt was right at home at SEMA.

“I’m getting some pretty good contacts out of the show,” said the 57 year-old Pratt, who hails from Jackson, Mich. “This is my first time in Las Vegas. There is a lot to see here.”

Pratt said he came to the SEMA show because Wade Kawasaki, who is an executive with SEMA, encouraged him to attend.

“I have a small company that builds chassis for 40s and 50s trucks,” explained Pratt, whose company is named A2Z Extreme Custom in Jackson. “I’m just getting started and this is my first show. I just got into a new shop space and I’m hoping that the business takes off like crazy.”

Pratt said he would be coming back to SEMA.

“I have learned a lot in my first visits to SEMA and I’m already making plans for next year. I have not had any problems at all and everyone is willing to say hello. Also, I’m amazed how many people here are natives.”

Alex Carmona was also in town for SEMA. A resident of Windsor, Colo., about 50 miles north of Denver, the 2018 event was his second visit to the SEMA Show.

“I’m an artist for a living and go to Japan, too,” said the 31 year-old native of Windsor, Colo., north of Denver. “SEMA approached me about doing the artwork for the show. It’s been life-changing to see all of the artwork and everyone at the show.

“This year has been really different for me. I was more successful at SEMA this year than last year. The exposure you get at SEMA is insane. I have a really old art form called print making. You carve a design out of wood block, which you turn into a big stamp. From there, that’s how I make all of my prints, which I frame up and show at the show.”

Carmona  loved what he saw in Las Vegas.

“I like it here,” he said. “It’s definitely fun to get away and visit Las Vegas. I’m the only print-maker at the show.”

           Peter MacGillivray, 54, the vice president of events for SEMA, said this year’s show exceeded expectations.

“Our best gauge is what our industry tells us,” said MacGillivray. “They define success and when we hear the type of feedback like we heard this year, we can label our event an overwhelming success. Our goal is to create the industry’s best marketplace and we are grateful for the confidence that our exhibitors and attendees have in the SEMA show.

“The industry represents more than $40 billion in sales and we’re still the largest annual gathering of small business in America; and it’s going strong.”

Former Indy Car racer Little Al Unser, left,  and former drag racer Joe Amato were among the racing stars who were at the annual SEMA Show gathering.

MacGillivray said the SEMA event resulted in well-over 100,000 room nights at our 48 host hotels. He said attendance was drawn from more than 130 countries and it’s still too early to know the final attendance.

“Frankly, the aisles were so full that we don’t have to wait for the numbers,” he said. “The exhibitors were so busy doing business that we know we had a great show.”

SEMA rounded out the show with its awards banquet Nov. 1 at the Westgate Hotel drawing a crowd estimated at about 3,500. The winners included Melanie White, president of Hellwig Products, SEMA Person of the Year; Jon Pulli, CEO, Turn 14 Distribution, Gen3 Innovator of the Year; Bob Cook Sales, SEMA Rep Agency of the Year; Turn 14 Distribution, SEMA Distributor of the Year; and Aeromotive Inc., SEMA Manufacturer of the Year.

New inductees into the SEMA Hall of Fame included Ed Pink, Ed Pink Racing Engines; Donnie Eatherly, P&E Distributors Inc.; and Chris Thomson, TMG Performance Group.

SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association founded in 1963, represents the $43 billion specialty automotive industry. The industry provides appearance, performance, comfort, convenience and technology products for passenger and recreational vehicles. Association resources include market research, legislative advocacy, training and product knowledge support, as well as leading trade shows such as SEMA in Las Vegas and the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show in Indianapolis, Inc.

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