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Detonation: The Wonder of SEMA


John Lehenbauer
Dec 24, 2018
Photographers: KJ Jones
I can remember wanting to attend the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas for many years before finally being presented with an opportunity to go. I had heard and read about all the cool new parts and products that debuted and how the amazing cars and trucks built specifically for the show could be seen for the first time.
I’m definitely not a SEMA veteran by any means. The few shows I’ve been to since joining the Diesel Power staff still make me more of a rookie, especially compared to people I work alongside who have been attending the event for 20 years or more. Despite my lack of tenure, I can truly say SEMA has not disappointed me as an enthusiast. Each year, I go up to Las Vegas with renewed anticipation for seeing cool new products and vehicles.
Seeing “all” the vehicles and products sounds good in theory. But, in reality, doing that is more of a pipe dream due to the massive size of the show. There are so many things happening that a person who likes to take his or her time and check everything out (all of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s halls and lobby areas, along with the award shows, presentations, and outdoor festivities) and spend some time chatting with vendors may be lucky enough to see half of the show during its four-day run. That is, if a person starts when it opens, charges all day, and doesn’t stop until the event shuts down at 5 p.m.
Photo 2/2   |   Vehicles like Ed Pettus’ diesel-powered ’32 Willys Stanavo Aircraft Refueling Truck are amazing and easily catch a person’s attention. It wasn’t hard to lose time covering the show, trying to take in all the detail and finish work that went into this rig and many others. The Willys actually made it to the Final Four of the 2018 SEMA Battle of the Builders.
Most people end up having to pick out the most intriguing things they want to see and then go forth with a game plan to get there. Luckily, SEMA offers maps and vendor listings to help people navigate the show. But even the best intentions can be easily sidetracked. All the glitz and glimmer of SEMA can be so enthralling that you end up acting like the deer in headlights, stopping and becoming fixated on almost everything you see. The amazing cars and trucks scattered about are easily distracting, and there are enough to keep a person occupied for days, gazing.
The thousands of products on display can also overwhelm any enthusiast’s senses. Just about any part you could possibly need for building, restoring, cleaning, or modifying a vehicle is on display from companies you may recognize—and many you have never heard of. Then there are all the parts you didn’t know you needed until you came across them while walking the aisles. These are usually the pieces that change your build plan or make you want to start another one. There are also parts that draw you in purely for their uniqueness (for vehicles you really don’t have a lot of interest in). It’s the “Wow! How does that work?” part of the brain that many times makes you take a little more time to check them out.
Tools are another big segment of SEMA. The displays range from equipment for basic automotive repair to advanced fabricating and such. There are also tire machines, lifts, and dynos on display. If you are anything like me and are hands on with your projects, the tools at SEMA are very enticing and another big distraction. There’s always cool new hardware to help make routine jobs easier and gadgets you probably don’t need but would be way cool to have. For example, I have wanted an “Iron Worker” hydraulic metal-fabrication machine for a long time. Do I really need one? Probably not, but seeing them there, all shiny and new, makes it hard to bypass.
For me, the week goes by quickly. I definitely don’t get to see everything I’d like to. Most of my time is spent roaming the countless aisles (basically in two buildings) and the New Products showcase, gathering information for our SEMA coverage online and in the magazine. I try to be as thorough as possible while collecting information, which seems like an almost impossible task given everything that gets crammed into the convention center. Getting sidetracked isn’t hard. (I’m a motorhead at heart. If it is cool, I like to check it out.) So for me, staying focused is very important. But whenever there is a spare moment, it’s nice to take a broader look at the stuff the SEMA Show serves up for our viewing pleasure.
It would be nice to have the time to really enjoy the event and see more of it as an enthusiast. There are a ton of cool things at SEMA, and every year it seems like more and more neat stuff is added.


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