Heaven on Earth? The SEMA Show 2013 Comes to Town

Shoreline Motoring Audi AllRoad

Shoreline Motoring Audi AllRoad

Written and photography by Jake Conlee

Every year, the nation comes together, dresses up, adorns masks and takes our kids trick-or-treating… And this means one thing: SEMA is here.

As you already know my love of all things automotive; this time of year is a glorious, magical time for celebration and revelry. What a relief, too, considering “The Holidays” are just around the corner. (Not a huge fan, kind of a Scrooge, myself) Racing season is coming to a halt, the Holidays are looming, and another year is coming to pass, but SEMA always comes to save the day.

SEMA: Specialty Equipment Market Association is the massive umbrella that everything automotive falls under. If it can be considered “special,” and added to your vehicle then chances are, it was introduced at the SEMA Show. I do not have enough of a proper grasp of the English language to appropriately describe the magnificence and splendor of what the SEMA Show is. Not a mere exposition, exhibition or convention, and the word “Show” is a deliberate deterrent, masking what  SEMA brings to Las Vegas, every first week in November.

If it sparkles, roars, rumbles and rolls, it can be found here. All of the automotive manufacturers, oil companies, cleaning products, wheel and tire , racing products that we see advertised to us on TV, on the radio, even on the internet, all come to participate. I don’t know of a larger or more extravagant exposition that marches into our pokey little town. Manufacturers from quite literally every corner of the globe come, and showcase their yet-to-be-released products; and yes, sadly it is not open to the public. But I have a tip for you, Las Vegas local and automotive enthusiast: The only time badges are checked, is upon entry of the actual exhibition halls. If it is under the sun, or showcased in a parking lot, it is unofficially open to you. Bring your camera and an extra battery.

I have been involved with the automotive industry in a professional capacity since 1994. My father was a Mobile mechanic as I was growing up. I have been a technician, salesman, service advisor, car audio specialist, tire tech, wheel specialist, if you can do it when it comes to cars, I have probably done it. I have been using my love for all things automotive as a hobby lately, but I don’t think my passion and outward excitement will ever falter. I will always approach these events with the adolescent fervor, even when I am old and indignant.

I know that from my friends that are exhibitors, they always say, ” Same old stuff.” But they are usually stuck in their booths, not getting the freedom to explore the SEMA. Not only is it a showcase of products; it is an adult playground on a large scale. In the parking lot facing Paradise Road, Ford Racing and Octane Academy race high performance Fiestas, Mustangs, Raptors and a Desert Cup Truck all tear around the lot, and the latter both catch air on an asphalt jump smack dabbed in the middle. The other cars, rip around the test track at tire howling speeds, you can see the terror and excitement in every passenger’s eyes. Sounds like fun, but then add the fact that you are welcome to ride along, free of charge? Awesome.

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My Favorite Truck of the Show

My Favorite Truck of the Show

Out back, in the loading bay perched just above the Desert Inn Bypass,  Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain Motor Resort & Country Club and Chevrolet have commandeered the lot, performing hot laps in the new and amazing 2014 Corvette Stingray. I was able to ride along with an instructor from the Ron Fellows Academy at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch, and let me tell you, I was incredibly impressed with the world class touches that can be found in the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette. No longer is it a conglomeration of chunky plastic minutiae, all replaced by sleek textures, quality leather, with comfortable and supportive seats. It is a proper sports car, and will make the US proud on the world stage. Another bonus to attending SEMA: Chevrolet gives you the opportunity to drive it, here on their mini test track. Occupying the parking lots from Convention Center Drive all the way to Desert Inn on Paradise, you can find just about everything you would want to see. Optima Batteries, with their fleet of Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational participants, Ford Racing and their little test track, Giovanna Wheels, and their Tour De Force of extreme luxury vehicles, and then there are the trucks. Hundreds, maybe thousands of beautiful, massive lifted trucks. In every color, finish and type, you will find at least one that makes you go, “Wow.” I am not a truck guy, myself, but I will give credit where credit is due; and some of these trucks are rolling pieces of art.  (One of my favorites of the weekend, I know it was driven hard, because of the broken input shaft being used as a wheel chock.)

In every direction that you look and wander, there is going to be something that brings out the child in all of us. For me, it is the Muscle Cars. The V8 powered, low slung, wide wheeled Muscle Cars. There is something for everyone; if you’re a Chevy fan, Tri-Fives, Camaros, Novas, Chevelles and Corvettes of all shapes, types and colors. If you’re a Mopar fan; Hemis, Cudas, Challengers, Chargers, even a really bad ass Pro Touring Valiant was right out front. And Fords, Fords were everywhere. Over 1,000,000 square feet of exhibition space is covered by all of the largest manufacturers: Goodyear, Mopar, Bridgestone, Falken, Mother’s Car Care, Chevrolet and Ford have massive displays, slinging out gift bags and gratis in every direction. Promotional models can be found at just about every booth and they are all very friendly to take a picture with.

Mingling with the manufacturers are the invited participants, all working for repair shops, dealerships, distributors, retail outlets, automotive press and so on. In other words, if you know someone that works on cars, sells cars, or does anything with cars for a living, then they are eligible candidates. One exhibitor and perennial participant that I had the pleasure of having done business with is TSW Wheels. TSW Wheels is a premier name of aftermarket wheels, and they are a well run company that I have many, many years of experience with.

Beyern BMW Wheels by TSW

Beyern BMW Wheels by TSW

Based out of Huntington Beach, Calif., when I think of SEMA, I think of TSW Wheels, and longtime friend, Ryan Gallagher. Ryan is a Sales Director of TSW Wheels, and has been there for the greater part of a decade. TSW Wheels specialize in exact fitments of most vehicles and all sizes, purposes and diameters. Their products are consistently good, tastefully understated, and racing inspired. I have never found the real answer, but I’ve heard that TSW stands for Terence Scheckter Wheels, which makes sense. Terence Scheckter, I have met once in my life, when I was just a parts runner while they were at their old facility in Foothill Ranch, Calif., but I know that he is a straightforward and smart businessman. I have always been a fan of his wheels, and I can guarantee that even if you didn’t know it at the time, you have seen many of his wheels. He is also a true racer and veteran of the sport, naming wheel designs for famous racetracks around the world. Now that they have created so many wheels, he is starting to name wheels after famous corners of famous racetracks. It would take a true Automotive racer to think of that concept; and I like it. Ryan has been the voice of TSW for years, and no matter what part of the country I pop up in, he is always there to support with any help, advice or technical assistance. He was also cut from a similar mold, growing up in the beach town of San Clemente, Calif. It was working for Jim’s Delta Tire in San Clemente that I was able to become associated with TSW. I have been able to create a long and lasting relationship; I like TSW and Ryan so much, that even when I move to a shop in Boston, or Long Beach, I can always rely on them to consistently deliver great service and equally good products. (tsw.com)

This next segment I am about to introduce to you has me incredibly excited and proud to live where we do. As you know, Las Vegas is also a premier racing destination across all disciplines of motorsport. But how does one become a racer? How can we possibly get all of the knowledge that you would need to be a competitive racer? I was given that answer at the SEMA Show. Did you know? Las Vegas has one of the largest and newest motorsport complexes in the country? It’s not the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it is the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain Motor Resort. Located just 55 miles west of Las Vegas via NV160 Blue Diamond Road, Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch and Ron Fellows Performance Driving School is a nice and relaxing drive away from the glittering lights. Tucked up against the western flank of the Spring Mountains, SMMR is set in a beautiful setting and it holds one of the finest, if not the finest racing facility in North America. With a 6.1 mile circuit and having just annexed an additional 2.1 miles, Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch boasts the longest racing circuit on the continent. In addition, there are luxury condos, fitness center, pool, Jacuzzi, among other top flight amenities. The racing school curriculum is a two to three day program that is designed by Corvette Racing Champion, Ron Fellows. Fellows is recognized as one of North America’s most versatile and successful road racing drivers; winning in NASCAR, ALMS and the 24 Hours Du Le Mans and he is also an inductee into the Corvette Racing Hall Of Fame. I don’t want to give up too much about SMMR, because they are due to have a feature written after a trip out to the track for myself. (www.springmountainmotorsports.com)

SEMA is what brought me to talk to you about these two exhibitors, and these two exhibitors were definite standouts to me, but also keep in mind that this is two out of THOUSANDS of exhibitors. They didn’t even give away any gratis, but because of their consistently good products and the ability to further Las Vegas’ image as a motorsport destination is why I chose to write something special about the both of them. I hope that you enjoy the pictures and I hope that you find a way to make it out to SEMA one year, even if it is just to check out what’s on display out front. I can promise you a convention, exposition (or whatever you want to call it) that will imprint itself into one of your special memories. Because it sure did for me.

Jake ConleeJake Conlee is a California native that has been blessed with the gift of restlessness. With an undying fervor and passion for what he does not yet know, life is a constant adventure. Truly fearless in implementation of wandering down less trafficked roads, this has led to many ordinary days turning into a treasure hunt. Emblazoned on his arm, the self photographed sign of this incredible City of Sin. He loves this city so much, a mural of Las Vegas is currently under development on his arms. If you need to know about anything in Las Vegas, if he doesn’t know the answer, he will find out for you. He loves Las Vegas, the good, the bad, but mostly the nostalgic. He’s also a sucker for a good hunk of meat. He is, most of all, a father of two girls, 12-year-old “Vern” and 18-month-old “Chuck”

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